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Dakota Eldridge, Tim O’Connell overcome injuries to make Wrangler NFR

by Matt Naber | Oct 03, 2019

PRCA Media Coordinator

Qualifying for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo is a challenge for any ProRodeo athlete, but some faced steeper challenges than others on the rodeo road to the 2019 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Steer wrestler Dakota Eldridge missed last year’s Wrangler NFR and a portion of the 2019 season due to a knee injury at Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days in July 2018. Now, he’s headed to his sixth Wrangler NFR ranked 11th in the PRCA | RAM World Standings

“Having a good attitude and a positive mindset went a long way,” Eldridge said. “Just having the confidence in knowing I’ve made the Finals five times before in the back of my mind helped – but you never know how it could go. I feel like steer wrestling is as tough as it’s ever been, so to compete against them fresh off an injury was challenging.”

Eldridge’s turning point in the season came when he won $18,394 between the Greeley (Colo.) Stampede, July 3, and the Dodge City (Kan.) Roundup Rodeo, Aug. 4. 

“It’s easy to get burned out and down, and for some reason this year I told myself that I’m blessed to be out here doing what I love, so I told myself I would win as much as I could,” Eldridge said. “Between Greeley and Dodge City, I knew it and craved it and could see it – and that’s what’s tough to keep all year, having that drive and determination at every rodeo. It’s a long year and there are a lot of sleepless nights to have that kind of determination and drive. It was either make it or break it right there, and I put my mind to it for the biggest week of the year.”

On the roughstock end, bareback rider Tim O’Connell missed six months of competition. When he returned to the chutes in June, he faced a $35,000 hill to climb just to reach 15th in the world standings.

“I had to change how I rodeoed from years past, and thank God it worked out,” O’Connell said.

Not only did the change work, it had an added benefit too.

“I think this year I had more fun than I had in the last five,” O’Connell said. “I love being the No. 1 guy in the world and I have goals to win my fourth world title, but my mindset for three years was to be No. 1 and the most dominant bareback rider week in and week out. … I love the man-versus-beast mentality of it, and I was so caught up in winning world titles that I almost fell out of love with rodeo. I didn’t have a choice but to step away because of the shoulder injury, and it made me sit and meditate on why I do this, and it’s because I love riding bucking horses and I love everything about rodeo.”

With the 2020 season underway, O’Connell is back in the gym with his trainers and coaches to prepare for the Wrangler NFR.

“I normally rest for a week after the (regular) season, but I wanted to be at a certain point physically,” O’Connell said. "It seems like the NFR is starting a week earlier. We are on a shortened time frame, and I want to be the best version of myself when I get there. I want to be at my fighting weight. Everyone has it where they feel the most physically dominant on a bucking horse, and I know where I want to be at.”

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