COLBERT, Wash. – Tyson Durfey arrived in Las Vegas one December ago with a bitter taste in his mouth.
Durfey failed to qualify for the 2012 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, finishing the regular season as the No. 18 tie-down roper in the world standings; only the top 15 earn the right to compete in ProRodeo’s grand championship; his only purpose to be in the City of Lights was to fulfill various requirements that come with being one the sport’s elite cowboys.
“After last season and not making the NFR, I really rededicated myself and got focused,” said Durfey, who grew up in Savannah, Mo., and has spent time in both Colbert and Weatherford, Texas, the last couple of years. “I hit the gym a lot more. I started buying more horses. I worked at it harder. I did what it took, and I really paid off.”
Yes, it did. Durfey posted the best regular season of his 11-year career, earning $97,985. He heads to the Dec. 5-14 NFR as the No. 2 tie-down roper on the money list. He returns to the sport’s marquee event for the sixth time in his career.
“I think the biggest thing is that after last year that I had been taking the NFR and rodeo for granted,” he said. “I realized I need to be setting my goals a little different; instead of just being satisfied with making the NFR, I need to set my goals to be a world champion. After I did that, I watched what (two-time reigning world champion) Tuf Cooper was doing. He was working out non-stop. He had a personal trainer. I decided I needed to do that, too.
“That working out gave me a lot more confidence, and it was just a snowball effect after that. I came home, and I dedicated myself. I practiced harder. I rode more horses.”
He built his body and his mind, and he turned it toward his ultimate goal, to claim this year’s gold buckle.
“I’m 30 years old,” he said, referring to his Nov. 27 birthday. “I feel like I’m getting better. At a point where people think you’re going backwards, I feel like I’m going forwards.”
It’s one of many ways the Missouri-born cowboy has changed. Since last year’s NFR, he proposed to his girlfriend, recording artist Shea Fisher. During a trip to New York City for New Year’s Eve, he got down on one knee in Central Park and popped the question. The couple married Oct. 6 in the hill country outside of Austin, Texas.
“I met her in Houston in 2010,” Durfey said. “Right when I laid eyes on her, I was taken. I think I spoke five words to her that night. She sent me a Facebook message the next day saying it was nice to meet me, then she sent me a friend request. I asked her to dinner the day. She would talk and answer all my questions, but she would never agree to dinner or give me her phone number.
“That went on for eight or nine months before I got her number. We talked on the phone for three or four months before we actually ever hung out.”
The Australian-born Fisher has had four No. 1 singles and two platinum albums in her home country. She is busy in Nashville, working with Sony Records to release her first album in the United States. She understands the gypsy lifestyle Durfey lives, because she lives it, too.
“There are a lot of guys whose wives want them to be home and not on the road so much,” Durfey said. “Mine isn’t that way at all. My wife wants me to be gone, because that’s how I make my living. She definitely wants me to be the best I can be.”
To that, Durfey has done a lot of little things to help him achieve the success he seeks. From hiring a driver to help him manage all the hours on the road between rodeos to making sure he utilized his horses in situations that worked best for them, he found a way to make it work.
“After dedicated myself to roping, I went to dedicating myself to sponsors as well,” he said, noting that he would be unable to perform at a top level without Next IT Corp., Zoetis Animal Health, Ingram Quarter Horses, Cinch, Corral Boots, Logan Coach Horse Trailers, Roger Williams Dodge, Swift Transportation, HR Workplace Services, Priefert and Silver Lining Herbs.
“That has allowed me the opportunity to have a full-time driver, and that helps so much. Instead of driving all night to rope at 8 o’clock in the morning, he can drive and I can sleep. I’m better prepared to rope at a top level. I started using Bailey where he was best, then I bought a horse, Rusty, and used him where he was the best. I was willing to do whatever it took to get better.”
For weeks, he has been in the gym by 6:30 every morning and doesn’t return home until well after sundown. He ropes for three hours a day, carries a heavy workload around his place and works on speed and agility training. He hopes it all pays dividends for those glorious 10 December nights, then he’ll sit back and relax and enjoy a delayed honeymoon to Bora Bora with his lovely bride.
Of course, he’d like to do it while wearing a world champion’s gold buckle.
“Over the years, I’ve considered myself a business man, and I’ve done a lot of things outside of rodeo,” Durfey said. “After last year, I realize I’ll go to the NFR 30 years old, so I need to focus on roping while I still have the ability and the health to do it. If I was dedicating 70 percent of my time to roping before, now I’m dedicating 90 percent.
“I know it’s going to take all that dedication if I want to win the world. I’m ready to do it.”
Yes, he is.