Two years ago, as the 2019 PBR Australia season rolled into Rockhampton for its annual May Touring Pro event, Cody Heffernan seemed to be unstoppable.
In the two months prior, the Singleton cowboy covered nine of the ten bulls he faced during March and April, averaging a ride score of 85.50 points. He picked up Monster Energy Tour event wins in Bendigo and Ballarat as well as Touring Pro victories in Yass and Sydney and sat comfortably above the pack in the No. 1 spot on the National Standings Leaderboard.
But as we know, in the sport of bull riding, momentum can be halted in the blink of an eye.
Heffernan looked set to contend for another event win after finishing second place after the long round inside the Great Western Hotel Arena.
But it wasn’t to be with his short round bull faking to the right, turning left and raising up for a 2.40-second buck off, which left the 2016 PBR Australian National Champion dazed and injured in the dirt.
That ride kicked off a wretched four-month stretch for Heffernan, with injuries limiting him to competing in just two PBR events, with quick buck offs ultimately forcing his decision to undergo surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee.
It has been a long road back, but when the 2021 PBR Australia season kicks off this weekend with a Monster Energy Tour stop inside that very arena in Rockhampton, the 31-year-old will have his eyes forward with a clear goal in mind.
“I’ve always felt like three titles was a good number,” said Heffernan.
“I’ve got one PBR Australian National Championship and one ABCRA Bull Riding Title, so I want at least one more”.
As he enters his 13th year competing in the PBR, Heffernan knows precisely what it will take once again to be a front runner for the gold buckle.
“To be a contender this year, just like every other year, a guy needs to be consistent, so that’s my main focus,” he said.
“I’m not versing the other guys; I can’t change what they’re going to do.”
“I’m up against the bulls, and if I do my job all year round, I know I’ll win the title.”
When Heffernan made his comeback late in the 2020 PBR Australia season, he won the long round at his return event in Toowoomba. He then went within 0.17 seconds of taking the victory in the Championship Round as Big Buck Hunter from ST Bucking Bulls drew the late slap.
But the confidence and consistency that had seen him finish inside the Top-55 on the PBR World Standings for the previous five seasons had yet to rebound with a run of buck offs building through to the mid-point of the 2020 PBR Australia Grand Finals.
In Round 2 of the season finale, Heffernan drew a young, rank Wallace Bucking Bull, and even though the ride ended in a wreck, he took encouragement from the dangerous situation.
“At that point, I’d bucked off a few bulls in a row, so my confidence was shot,” said Heffernan.
“Razor Sharp was the bull, and he bucked me off pretty quick, but I tried not to dwell on the buck off and looked to find a positive.”
“The bull got his horn hooked under my left knee and flipped me, so it took a pretty good shot, and it held up just fine, so I was happy about that because it hadn’t been tested like that before,” he explained.
“I just tried to take that into the next night of competition to give me some type of confidence.”
With the added assurance that his body was up to the task, Heffernan produced a great effort in the third round but fell just short of the whistle. Then, in the final long round, he picked up the round win on another Wallace Bucking Bull, Double XL, with an outstanding 85.50-point score riding into his hand.
In bull riding, momentum can be halted in a blink of an eye, but confidence can be re-built with just one 8-second ride, and with that confidence, Heffernan can regain the consistency that he needs to chase his goal of a third national bull riding title.
“My knees are feeling good,” he said.
“I’ve put in a lot of work in the gym to be prepared for this season.”
“It’s just been a very long process, and I’m thankful that I’ve had the support from my family, friends and my partner to help get me back to where I am.”