O’Connell remains positive at NFR

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Tim O’Connell rides J Bar J’s Blessed Assurance to place in Friday’s ninth go-round of the National Finals Rodeo. It was his fourth paycheck at this year’s finale.

LAS VEGAS With one night remaining in the 2021 ProRodeo season, Tim O’Connell has a realistic look at his run through the first nine nights of the National Finals Rodeo.

“It hasn’t been that tough, but it hasn’t been that good,” said O’Connell, a three-time world champion from Zwingle, Iowa. “At my first NFR (in 2014), I bucked off three of my horses, so this is a little bit better than my first NFR.

“I haven’t drawn that great. I haven’t ridden that great. I’ve been fighting equipment all week. My first major rodeo coming off the surgery plays a little bit into it. I’ve been trying too much too soon. A lot of factors play into it. It’s still the best rodeo in the world to be at.”

His surgery happened in August after he suffered a broken coccyx, and doctors removed his tailbone. He had to rehab for weeks and only got on a few horses before arriving in Las Vegas for the most grueling 10 days of the season.

He’s placed just four times, which is atypical run for the former college champion now living in Marshall, Missouri, the home of his alma mater, Missouri Valley College. He’s earned $36,852.

“In my mind, I’m upset about not making any more than that, but it’s still $36,000 at the end of the day,” said O’Connell, who won Montana Silversmiths gold buckles in 2016-18. “You just get used to doing what you do. It’s been one of those years, and it’s OK. Me and my family are going to be just fine.”

On Friday night, he rode J Bar J’s Blessed Assurance for 84.5 points to finish in a three-way tie for sixth place. That was worth $1,451, and he moved his season earnings to $192,908. It’s down a bit from what he’s used to doing at the NFR. A year ago, for example, he finished the season with $271,000 and as the reserve world champion.

“With what happened last year, I had a lot of growing up to do that I didn’t realize I had to do,” he said. “I feel like I’ve matured as a human and as a bareback rider. I’m able to handle disappointment with a different outlook.

“This is not my best NFR, and I’ll put that on me. Those horses’ jobs are to make me look stupid, and I felt stupid on the back of them. I haven’t felt totally in command until tonight. This is the third time I’ve switched riggings this week. It wasn’t until about the five-second mark that I felt like I was in command of a ride for the first time in 72 seconds.”

He has one more night to earn whatever money he can, and he’s going to make a run at it Saturday night.

“I’m still excited about coming over here (to the Thomas & Mack Center),” O’Connell said. “I’m still excited about getting on bucking horses. (Saturday) is the best bucking horses in the world. These the best guys in the best locker room in the world.”  

Still smiling and staying positive through the troubles life and rodeo throw at someone is a gift, and there’s a reason why he’s a champion.


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