PUEBLO, Colo. – Jake Gowdy wasn’t able to celebrate his 20th birthday two months ago the way he had always hoped.
Ever since he was an aspiring bull rider growing up in the small, Oklahoma town of Bristow, Gowdy had set his sights on making it to the Built Ford Tough Series full time before he was 20 years old.
In ways, Gowdy indeed achieved that goal earlier this year when he qualified for the BFTS courtesy of a victory at the Grand Rapids, Michigan, Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour event on Feb. 11.
Gowdy went on to compete at the Frontier Communications Iron Cowboy the following week before finishing in seventh-place – a career-best – at the St. Louis Invitational.
The rookie bull rider was ranked 28th in the world standings and was well on his way to entrenching himself on the BFTS for 2017.
However, Gowdy, competing in just his sixth BFTS event, wound up severely separating his left shoulder during the Ty Murray Invitational in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the week before his 20th birthday.
Just like that, Gowdy, who had missed six months in 2016 because of knee surgery, was headed back to the sidelines with an injury.
Gowdy has spent the last month and a half vigorously rehabbing his riding shoulder with the hopes of still being able to qualify for his first career PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals later this year.
He underwent various treatments for his shoulder, including muscle shock therapy, ultra sounds, resistance bands exercises and, of course, lots of ice.
“It was pretty tough, but it went good,” Gowdy said. “I didn’t need surgery.”
Gowdy has since dropped to 40th in the world standings, but he does have four BFTS injury exemptions at his disposal.
He also is still only 65 points behind No. 35 Reese Cates heading into this weekend’s Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour Cactus Jack PBR Bull Riding in Uvalde, Texas, on Friday and Saturday.
“I just have to keep riding and getting points,” Gowdy said.
Uvalde will be Gowdy’s first event since separating his shoulder.
Other Top 35 riders in the draw include world leader Eduardo Aparecido, No. 2 Kaique Pacheco, No. 5 Derek Kolbaba, No. 6 Jess Lockwood, No. 9 Cooper Davis, No. 10 Joao Ricardo Vieira, No. 11 Rubens Barbosa, No. 14 Cody Teel, No. 15 Claudio Montanha Jr., No. 16 Cody Nance, No. 17 Marco Eguchi, No. 18 Silvano Alves, No. 20 Dener Barbosa, No. 21 Guilherme Marchi, No. 22 Luciano de Castro, No. 23 Fabiano Vieira, No. 31 Emilio Resende, No. 32 Luis Blanco, No. 35 Cates.
Injuries have been a frustrating problem for Gowdy.
The 2014 runner-up at the National High School Finals Rodeo was one of the more talented high school bull riders in Oklahoma, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy since turning pro upon following his 2015 graduation from Bristow High School.
“Last year I was hurt, but this year I started off fresh,” Gowdy said in an interview before Iron Cowboy. “This is the top of the game, it is hard to compensate when you are hurt.”
Gowdy had actually graduated from high school early by taking junior-level classes in the mornings and then senior-level classes after lunch.
He missed his graduation so he could compete at his first PBR event in Wharton, Texas.
While he tried to gain his footing at the Velocity Tour and Touring Pro Division levels, he saw kids close to his age like Lockwood and Kolbaba beginning to thrive on the BFTS last year.
“It was kind of hard because I was riding against them in high school, but I wasn’t mature enough (for the BFTS),” Gowdy admitted.
Gowdy is a second generation bull rider, and his family owns a cattle ranch.
He attempted his first calf at 4 years old and credits his father, John, with teaching him the ins and outs of bull riding.
“He has been a lot of help,” Gowdy said. “He hauled me all over the country and taught me everything I know. He taught me to keep my mind right. Don’t let everything distract you. Just think that you are out in the practice pen.”
Jake even competed as a calf rider when he was 6 or 7 years old at the PBR event in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Tulsa is a quick 30-minute drive north from Bristow, and Gowdy was a frequent fan when the top bull riders in the world came to town.
In fact, he has plenty of photos of him with 2004 World Champion Mike Lee.
“I always liked Mike Lee growing up,” Gowdy said. “When I went to the PBR in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I would want to get his autograph. It is pretty cool to ride against my favorite bull rider.”
Gowdy was even able to travel with Lee to the Newtown, North Dakota, Velocity Tour event in November.
He admitted it was a surreal moment being able to travel to an event with his childhood idol.
“We talked all kinds of stuff,” Gowdy said. “We talked bull riding and how he won the world when he was 21 years old. We talked about that and how much money he has won.”
Most of all, Gowdy still remembers the advice Lee gave him at the start of the season.
“Get aggressive on the bulls and go at them 110 percent,” Gowdy said.
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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