Broken bones have never deterred one of the best bull riders in the world.
While injuries are not unusual for rodeo cowboys, D.J. Shields seems to have had more than his share.
Yet, dedicated rehabilitation and strong flowing adrenalin for his sport have brought Shields back to his highest championship form.
“I am the happiest I’ve ever been,” Shields contended Friday afternoon before crawling down in the bucking chute at a bull riding event in Georgia.
Undisputable proof of his world class ability came earlier this month when he was a member of the first place team at the International Bull Riding Challenge in Costa Rica with 43 cowboys from 13 countries.
“I’m mentally strong and riding as good as I have in my lifetime,” assured Shields, a Humboldt, Kansas, native, now calling Wynnewood, Oklahoma, home, although he’s seldom there.
Further talent verification came just days earlier when the 27-year-old cowboy won a large check at the Invitational Bull Riding Championship in Mexico.
“Life is good,” reiterated Shields, who had competed in Maryland the night before driving to Georgia.
He was scheduled again in Georgia Saturday, and then was heading to competitions in Arkansas, and Fort Worth, before coming to the Brett Cushenbery Benefit Bull Riding at Manhattan on Saturday night, April 27.
“D.J. won our competition last year, and we’re really excited that he’ll be back to defend his title,” verified A.J. Griffin, coordinator of the benefit competition, which is expected to attract more than 30 such caliber bull riders from throughout the Midwest.
Reflecting on his profession, Shields said, “I got on my first junior bull when I was eight-years-old, placed second, and riding bulls has been my life’s goal ever since.”
When he was 13-years-old, Shields started “riding big bulls at open rodeos.” His success earned him a scholarship to be on the Coffeyville Community College Rodeo Team, qualifying for the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) Finals.
“I rode one, but didn’t make it to the whistle on the second bull,” remembered Shields who was second for the year in his event of the NIRA Central Plains Region that year.
As impressive as that was, Shields competed at his first Championship Bull Riders (CBR) Finals in Las Vegas at just 20 years of age, qualifying by competing on 30 bulls in 16 televised CBR events.
Shields also claimed the Central Plains Rodeo Association bull riding title that same year.
Champion at both the Don Gay Invitational and the Lane Frost Challenge, Shields then received an invitation to the very first International Bull Riding in Costa Rica, where he finished second in the average.
“Then, injuries started slowing me down,” Shields verified.
“I kept reinjuring my elbow, which required three surgeries, and I couldn’t ride bulls for more than a year,” explained Shields, who decided to “just compete in smaller events,” when he went back on the road.
That earned him top-five placing in the American Cowboys Rodeo Association (ACRA) and Bull Riders Incorporated (BRI). He also finished in the top 20 in the International Pro Rodeo Association last year.
However, a major setback came during the PBR Canadian Finals. “I ruptured a tendon, and was forced to took off five months off to heal up, so I could go strong,”
And, “strong” he has been since hitting the circuit just last month, riding a handful of competition bulls every week, and making healthy additions to his career earnings, now just shy of a half million dollars.
“Although I’ve had a tough time staying healthy, my winnings, when I have been able to compete, have been largely responsible for invitations to the major bull riding events,” said Shields.
Intending to mount more than 200 bucking bulls this year, if he continues riding at the present pace of competition, Shields expects to qualify for the finals competitions in several associations.
Since starting fulltime this winter, Shields has a 69 percent success rate of making the eight-second qualifying whistle on bulls he’s mounted.
“Of course, the caliber of bulls can influence that number, but I’ve had really good draws, so far,” Shields admitted.
Highest marked ride of his career, 92.5 points, was for riding Gray Dog, a three-time National Finals Rodeo bull, owned by Neil Gay.
“I’m really anxious to ride at the Cushenbery Benefit Bull Riding Saturday night. I hope I can draw Gray Squirrel, a top bull from Jimmy Crowther’s string. I marked 89.5 points on him at a CBR event in Jackson, Tennessee, so he’d be a great draw at Manhattan,” Shields recognized.
While his obvious athletic ability and desire attribute heavily to his success, Shields has been diligent in his physical fitness efforts.
“I have a regular workout schedule of resistance training and high-repetition programs. I do water resistant exercises and try to run two or three miles a day,” admitted Shields, adding “I watch what I eat, but I’m not on a strict diet.”
Trisha Smeenk, Miss Rodeo USA 2012, originally from South Dakota, provides encouragement for Shields, who said he appreciates the support from his girlfriend. “I am fortunate that she travels with me most of the time. She is my number one fan.
“We train horses and are planning to participate in events like Road to the Horse and Mustang Million, two of the largest horse training competitions in the world,” Shields said.
Emphatic that he has “no intention of slowing down” his bull riding competitions, Shields admitted, “It’s just not possible to keep riding bucking bulls all of my life. So, then I plan to train performance horses.”
Until that day comes, D.J. Shields will keep crawling down in bull bucking chutes all over the world with one thing on his mind: the “gold buckle dream,” his e-mail address.