For bull riders, the toughest sport on dirt serves up its fair share of injuries, but some threaten to derail a rider’s career more than others.
Whilst competing at April’s Wichita Classic in Kansas earlier this year, Atherton bull rider Kurt Shephard suffered such an injury.
Shephard had recorded an 83.5-point qualified ride earlier in the night and entered the Championship round in fourth position, drawing the well known short-go bull Smooth Wreck (Owens/Teller).
The 24-year-old looked to have a good seat until Smooth Wreck changed directions at the three seconds mark of the ride, putting Shephard out of position.
“I knew the bull was going to be around to the left, but as he switched directions and came back to the right, I overcorrected and ended up underneath him”.
“I guess I landed on the back of my head and my legs came back over me”.
As the bull backed up in the air, his hind legs came down onto Shephard, folding him in half.
PBR barrelman Clint ‘Wolfey’ Selvester probably described the wreck best when he said: “It almost switched direction on where he was taking the rest of his life”, immediately after the ride.
Shephard was able to crawl clear, but it became obvious that he was in a considerable amount of pain as the arena was cleared and PBR Sports Medicine arrived.
The result was a compression fracture of his T12 vertebrae in his lower back.
“I ended up spending the night in the hospital and left the next day with a back brace on which I was required to wear for the next 6-8 weeks”.
Shephard (Center) on the road to recovery, pictured at the Cairns Invitational with Lachlan Richardson and Nathan Burtenshaw – Credit: @KurtShephard94
The road to recovery involved a lot of bed rest with some light exercises designed to strengthen Shephard’s core and back muscles. These exercises progressed to jogging and more strenuous work as he continued to gain his strength back, eventually getting back to a point where he could ride his horse bareback a few times a week and spend time on the drop barrel.
Shephard returned to the arena at the Mt Carbine Bull & Bronc Ride in mid-August before heading to the North Queensland Elite Rodeo, where he produced a winning performance in the Bull Ride, sealing the win with an 84-point ride on Lock n Load (Brandenburg Bucking Bulls) in the Final Four.
Despite missing more than four months of the current PBR Season and competing in only six PBR Australia events, Shephard finds himself in-line for a berth in November’s 2018 PBR Australia Grand Finals.
“That was one thing I wanted to do, finish off the PBR Australia season strong and make sure I made Townsville”.
Since returning to PBR competition at the Mackay Invitational in early September, Shephard has been one of the form riders, recording two top-5 finishes to move into the number 20 spot on the Australian National Standings.
Shephard rides Iron Jacket for 85-points at the Rockhampton Invitational
“This is the most comfortable I have been heading into events. Rather than taking it all too seriously as I have in the past, I have been putting the work in during the week and that has paid off and allowed me to have some fun and enjoying myself on the weekends.”
Shephard also has the 2019 PBR Global Cup in the USA on his mind.
After recording a 10th place finish at the inaugural PBR Global Cup in Canada, Shephard was forced to watch his teammates defend home soil from the edge of his seat at his home in North Queensland.
“If I can get a couple wins and produce good performances in the upcoming PBR Australia events in Beaudesert and Dubbo and hold my form through to Townsville and onto Melbourne, hopefully, I can regain my spot on Team Australia”.
Shephard is looking forward to the 2019 PBR Season with a return to the USA on the cards and a goal to work his way into the Top 35 of the PBR World Standings to qualify for the PBR World Finals.
At the 2016 PBR World Finals, Shephard got a taste of how loud Championship Sunday can be inside T-Mobile Arena as an injury alternate.
“That is something I think about all the time. I would love to hear that roar for five days straight”.
Shephard is currently ranked 85th in the PBR World Standings despite the time away from competition and will next compete at PBR Australia’s Monster Energy Beaudesert Invitational on 6 October.