LAS VEGAS – A year ago, Justin McDaniel was in so much pain at the halfway point of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, he couldn’t sit. Still, the Porum, Okla., cowboy gritted his teeth to finish the 10-round championship.
Fast forward to 2010, where McDaniel has placed in four straight go-rounds and pocketed $29,234 – not too shabby for five days of work on the nastiest horses in ProRodeo. On Monday night during the fifth go-round in the Thomas & Mack Center, McDaniel spurred the Classic Pro Rodeo horse Good Time Charlie for 85 points, which was good enough for fifth place and a check worth $4,519.
“I’m feeling great,” said McDaniel, the 2008 bareback riding world champion. “I should’ve ridden that horse a little better, but I feel really good.”
McDaniel earned the right to compete in Las Vegas with a spectacular end to the 2010 regular season, which saw him earn $81,850 in less than four months – injuries that mounted in 2009 added up to a back injury that required surgery in February and left him on the shelf for six months.
“The reality is I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have the support from my friends and my sponsors this season,” McDaniel said, noting his relationship with Ariat, WW Livestock Systems, Carr Pro Rodeo and James Hodge Ford in Muskogee, Okla. “They gave me the support I needed when I couldn’t compete, and then they were there for me when I could.
“That helped me a lot with my confidence. Jack Hodge isn’t just a sponsor but also a friend, who was there with me every day in my rehab. He motivated me and ran every mile with me. That means more to me than he knows.”
The payoff is coming at ProRodeo’s grand finale. McDaniel has ridden five horses for a cumulative score of 420 points, giving the cowboy the lead in the all-important average race where the winner earns $44,910 at the conclusion of the NFR. McDaniel is ahead of the No. 2 man, world standings leader Steven Dent of Mullen, Neb., by just a point.
“I don’t even think about that,” he said. “My goal is to win every round, and I haven’t won one yet. I think I can ride better than I’m doing. It’s been a great week, but there’s always room for improvement.”
Spoken like a champion.