LAS VEGAS – A stomach bug is no fun, period. It’s less fun for an athlete trying to win a world championship.
Just ask Tim O’Connell, the reigning world champion bareback rider from Zwingle, Iowa, who also leads the bareback riding world standings through seven nights of ProRodeo’s grand finale, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
“I woke up yesterday very ill,” O’Connell said. “I spent most of the day in the ER getting fluids and everything else they gave me.”
He missed out on placing in Rounds 5 and 6, but he rebounded Wednesday night to finish in a tie for second place in the seventh round by matching moves with Korkow Rodeo’s Harry’s Girl for 85.5 points – he matched the score posted by Californian Clayton Biglow, and both men pocketed $18,192.
That’s pretty salty for a man who’d been able to hold down just a bit of food in the previous 24 hours.
“I think the greatest thing that happened for me yesterday was all the guys in the locker room,” said O’Connell, who has earned $87,846 in Las Vegas and pushed his season earnings to $289,762. “I had the support from all those guys.”
He is talking about the 14 other bareback riders, those that are trying to catch him for the world championship.
“J.R. Vezain came over and prayed over me before the national anthem,” O’Connell said. “The comradery in the bareback riding locker room is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
“None of those guys had to do anything for me. I’m the guy they want to beat, but everyone was trying to help me out and help me get better.”
Despite his weakness, O’Connell overcame the struggles and put on a classic ride on a large horse. Though the two athletes hadn’t been matched together before Wednesday night, they danced across the Thomas & Mack Center dirt like they had.
“I’ve heard really good things about her,” he said of Harry’s Girl. “It is probably the biggest Korkow horse I’ve ever been on. I feel like I was back to being more solid.”
Now that he feels solid, he’s hoping to get more solid food. No matter how his tummy feels, he has three more nights to close out the 2017 ProRodeo season and reach for a second straight gold buckle.