Ryan Gray holds no grudge.
Should he meet up with American Dreams in the next 10 days in his quest for the American dream, he’ll do what he does best and certainly better than most.
The two faced off a year ago, in the second round of the National Finals Rodeo. Gray, a Cheney High School graduate, was leading the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association bareback standings until he was dumped by the Beutler & Son Rodeo Co. bronc and stepped on, suffering a lacerated liver that ended his pursuit of his first world championship.
The quest begins anew Thursday in Las Vegas, and though there is no guarantee Gray, 28, will draw American Dreams in one of the 10 rounds, it’s not something he’s worried about.
“Not at all,” he said. “It was one of them deals. That obviously was a freak accident. It could happen at any time. You take that risk every time you get on. It doesn’t do any good to dwell on something that already happened or could happen.”
Gray enters the NFR in fourth place with more than $92,000, far short of the $130,000 he had last year when he was but 10 days from the top of the mountain, but pretty amazing under the circumstances.
After healing at his Texas ranch he entered his first rodeo in March and promptly hurt his ribs, chalking it up to “just another one of them deals” and put a seventh-straight NFR in jeopardy. But thoughts of “wait ‘till next year” never really entered his mind.
“It’s important to be smart about your rodeo decisions, as far as where you’re going, how many you’re going to go to,” he said. “You also have to focus on the important things as far as the rodeo side, staying healthy, taking the time off when you need the time off.
“I like to be at home. … I wasn’t really down and out. I didn’t have to sit on the couch the four months I was off. I was able to get a lot done.”
Gray started winning as soon as he went back to work, criss-crossing the west to make up for lost time.
“Anything can happen in the summer,” he said. “I’m not the only one that has proved that. A guy can win a lot of money in a short time if he gets hot, draws good and rides well. I felt like I was as strong as I’ve been in a long time so that helped going into the heat of the rodeo season.”
And he still feels strong. He won more than $6,000 toward next season at a recent rodeo in Kansas City and then finished second at the Columbia River Circuit Finals earlier this month to win his fourth straight championship.
He’s also taking a veteran attitude into the Finals, which is easier said than done with all the money at stake. The winner of each of the 10 rounds gets $17,885, with the top four earning checks, and the average, the highest total for the 10 rounds, is worth another $45,865, with the top six getting paid.
“(You) try not to focus on everything around you, the average, the points and all that,” he said. “You try to take everything in stride each night, try not to do too much; don’t try to be more points than you need to be, just try to make solid rides, perform the best you can, try to treat every night like just another rodeo.”
And if American Dreams ends up beside his name on the draw sheet, so be it.
“Doesn’t matter, I look forward to getting on the horses that deserve to be here,” he said.
Just like the cowboys.