photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen

Looking back on my Fourth of July run, I think, “Maybe that flight to Ponoka, Alberta, was a bad omen.”

by Tyson Durfey

My Fourth start normal enough. I’d made a good run in Greeley on June 27 and was on a small express jet from Denver to Ponoka. We were cruising along at about 26,000 feet and all of a sudden we heard a loud, sharp pop followed by a dull, humming noise.

The plane nose-dived and turned hard all at once. There was tons of turbulence. I mean tons. The cabin was shaking all over the place. Everything was rattling. My stomach dropped. It was one of those eerie moments when you know things aren’t good. You just hope they’re better than you think.

The captain came on the intercom. “We’re having problems with the aircraft,” he said, “and we need to turn around and go back to Denver.”

An older lady was sitting next to me, white-knuckling the seat in front of her. She was pretty nervous and, not to lie, so was I. We hadn’t said a word to each other the whole flight, but I reached over and took her hand. We held hands the entire flight back to Denver.

When we landed, she was still shaken up, but she was smiling.

“Thank you so much,” she said. “I so appreciate it!”

It turns out the seal on the airplane door had popped, and we had been losing cabin pressure. To keep from having to drop oxygen masks, the plane had to decrease altitude fast. We dropped maybe 15,000 feet in what felt like seconds.

I was able to get another flight and tentatively stepped on board, bound for Canada.

I told my wife I held another lady’s hand but that it had been out of comfort. She just laughed, which put me at ease for the other flight. I made it to Ponoka in time to rope but not enough time to sleep.

I can’t say my week went uphill from there. I’ve drawn strong calves that were just challenging. I’ve made a lot of personal mistakes. I’ve roped good ones and then broke barriers for two big checks. No matter how bad things got, I tried to stay focused and stay calm.

It continued to be a turbulent run.

With one exception. I won Molalla, Oregon, for about three thousand dollars. It was something—a glimmer of hope. On to St. Paul, Oregon.

In St. Paul, the roping boxes are teeny tiny—very narrow. In Vegas, at the Thomas & Mack, the boxes are about ten feet wide. St. Paul’s are maybe eight feet wide. And there are these tall poles next to the boxes, taller than your horse. The poles are one reason St. Paul is such a challenging rodeo, though there’s not much you can do to avoid them. It kind of comes down to luck of the swing. But, as we’ve already established, luck wasn’t in my favor much this week.

I backed in the box and nodded. The chute opened on my last calf of the rodeo. I kicked my horse and started swinging my loop. You can probably guess what happened. I whacked my loop on the pole and dropped my rope before I was out of the box. I lowered my head in disbelief.

How could that have happened? Why hadn’t I paid more attention?

I needed five minutes.

I have a five-minute rule. I give myself five minutes to beat myself up—to be as down as I want after a bad run or a personal mistake. Five minutes.

I’ve learned that you have to ride the rollercoaster both ways. When it’s going up, you’ve got to be patient, and when it drops, you’ve got to ride that momentum as long as you can.

It’s funny, as an athlete you can sense when things are going your way, and you can sense  when they’re not. I have to remind myself not to push. I can’t force something to happen no matter how badly I want it to. I can’t make things happen that aren’t meant to happen.

All year, I’ve had lots of momentum—I’m first in the world at the moment—until this holiday run. My win at Molalla has been my only check of Cowboy Christmas so far. Whether that’s circumstances, personal failures or just bad luck, I can’t get too worked up about it. When that happens, my body tightens up, and my mindset isn’t right.

Rodeo is a game of chance. You usually fall into a rhythm after three or four good runs in a row, and, optimistically, I feel that’s headed my way.

Just give me five minutes.

Read about all the action during the Fourth of July run HERE.

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