SAVANNAH, Mo. – When he’s not on the rodeo trail, Tyson Durfey spends a great deal of time at his place in Weatherford, Texas.
It’s the ideal location for rodeo. His proximity is close to other rodeo competitors as well as many rodeos, and the weather tends to be warmer for longer periods of time.
But Savannah always will be home.
Durfey was born and raised there, and he developed his passion for rodeo in Andrew County, tucked inside northwest Missouri and just a stone’s throw from St. Joseph. Of course, that’s par for the course for the Durfey clan.
Father Roy trains tie-down ropers and roping horses, and he shared those lessons with Tyson and his two brothers, Wes and Travis. All have competed in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, but Tyson has carried it further than anyone; he will compete at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the eighth time in his career.
“The season turned out really good,” Tyson Durfey said. “I was able to buy a new horse; Nikko has really made a difference. I was able to win a lot at some big rodeos and was able to win a lot at the end of the season when I needed to.”
He earned more than $72,000 roping calves during the 2015 regular season, finishing 14th in the world standings. That’s the good news, since only the top 15 contestants in each event advance to the NFR, ProRodeo’s grand finale that takes place Dec. 3-12 in Las Vegas.
Durfey first qualified for the NFR in 2007 and has returned almost every year since; his only miss was in 2012, when he finished 18th.
“The one year I didn’t make the finals was devastating,” he said. “You don’t know what you miss out on until you miss it one time. It creates a lot more motivation and a lot more focus.”
In fact, that season changed a lot about the Missouri-born cowboy. He turned his attention toward the little things that mattered, and he’s carried that over into his daily habits. Besides having a great horse like Nikko, he found a great personal trainer in Jay Novacek, a former All-Pro tight end for the Dallas Cowboys.
“Being able to work out with Jay has really helped out a lot,” Durfey said. “Not only is he a strength and conditioning coach, he’s a sports psychologist, which is good for my business. It’s the perfect storm with the horse and working out with a three-time Super Bowl champion.”
Key wins were nice, but so is the right mindset. That’s played as big a role as anything into Durfey’s success. He’s finished among the top five in the world standings twice and has been on the brink of a world title.
“I think my biggest motivator is my desire to be a National Finals qualifier and my desire to have a chance to win the world,” he said. “I really have goals that I want to achieve, and those goals don’t change. It’s always to make the National Finals and be a world champion. Those goals keep me motivated every day.”
It’s not hard to keep pushing, especially with so much talent. But this season wasn’t without worries. Durfey used a late-season push to earn a spot among the top 15 and return to Sin City for his share of the largest purse in the game, with $8.8 million being paid over 10 December nights.
That comes into play in more ways than one. For professional rodeo athletes, there are no guaranteed salaries. The only way to earn money is to be better than most of the field. Dollars equal championship points, so the contestants in each event who finish the year with the most earnings will be crowned world champions.
That’s why that late-season scramble became so vital for Durfey.
“My mind has been really good all year,” he said. “I was able to handle a lot of pressure and not really let it affect my performance. When you’re backing in the last month of the season and you’re not in the top 15, it’s a battle. I was ready for the battle, and to have a good horse when you back in the corner makes a difference.
“I also believe in myself that I could do it. A strong faith never hurts. I was able to call on my Lord and Savior, and He was able to pull me through.”
A good number of people had faith in Durfey, including his wife of two years, Shea Fisher, an Australian-born country artist. She travels with him when she’s not in Nashville writing or recording.
“When you spend around 200 days a year on the road, you need a wife that is so supportive of what you do,” Durfey said. “My wife is probably my biggest supporter, my biggest fan. She pushes me. When I’m not winning, she believes in me and tells me I’m a champion.
“She’s been able to keep me balanced and focused the last several years.”
Though it’s been more refined over recent years, Durfey still holds tight to those lessons he learned on his family’s place near Savannah, where he’d ride and rope and enjoy the life of a young cowboy. He still relishes in those moments, reflects on them.
“I went back home in September, and I got to see the (Savannah High School) Savage mascot head painted on the concrete,” Durfey said. “It reminded me of my life growing up.
“It was a sense of pride seeing that, and it brought back some really cool memories.”
The good news is Tyson Durfey is still making cool memories.