Brody Cress was having a season to remember.
On July 29, the Hillsdale native won the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo saddle bronc riding championship for the second consecutive year, becoming the first repeat champion in the event since 1936. The victory helped Cress secure his hold on second place in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world standings with two months left in the regular season.
The following week he won the first go-round at the Home on the Range Champions Ride in Sentinel Butte, North Dakota. But when Cress dismounted off Burch Rodeo’s Professional Lunatic, his season almost came to a crashing halt.
“I landed wrong on my right ankle and shattered it,” Cress told ProRodeo.com at the time.
Multiple surgeries left him with a plate and six screws in his fibula. Doctors also had to fix his tibia where it connected to the ankle.
“This is by far the worst injury I’ve ever had,” Cress said. “I just have to figure out how to get through it so I can get back to doing what I love.”
The broken ankle raised some concern that the 22-year-old Cress would be unable to defend the average title he won at last year’s National Finals Rodeo.
Cress, however, never let that thought enter his mind.
“When I got injured, there was no question that I was going to do what I had to do to get it healed up and keep it from getting hurt again,” Cress said. “There’s soreness, but it’s dang sure manageable. It’s not completely healed, but it’s healed enough to get on. As long as I can take care of it and make sure it’s taped right it should be good.”
He’ll find out soon enough as the NFR kicks off Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Despite missing the last two months of the regular season, Cress enters the NFR having won more than $111,000 on the year and holds the No. 6 spot in the world standings.
“It was an absolute blessing to jump out at the start of the year and have enough good horses where I could win enough money to be high up in the standings,” Cress said. “First of all, the injury happened at the right time of year where I had time to get healed up and get back for the NFR. I was in position to miss two full months of the season without having to worry about missing the NFR.”
Cress enters the NFR trailing event leader Jacobs Crawley by more than $56,000. Last year Cress entered his first NFR trailing Crawley by more than $78,000, but cashed checks in seven of 10 rounds to win more than $176,000. He finished second in the world standings, just $2,651 behind Ryder Wright.
The injury kept Cress out of the arena for more than 12 weeks. Recently, however, he got on eight bucking in five days.
“I dang sure wanted to get on some practice horses before I came out here and I was able to do that,” he said. “It’s still not 100 percent healed, but it’s dang sure feeling good enough to get on bucking horses.
“I don’t think about it while I’m riding. It’s at a spot where I’m going to be able to compete efficiently and do what I need to do. I’ll just take it as it comes. If it gets really sore, I just need to figure out what I need to do to take care of it. I just have to go day by day and horse by horse.”
Thursday, more than four months after shattering his right ankle, Cress will be back on pro rodeo’s biggest stage doing what he loves. He might not have taken the path he wanted to get here, but that doesn’t matter now.
“Coming into the NFR after not competing for four months adds a different aspect to this year,” he said. “I focus on taking care of my ankle when I’m not at the rodeo, but when it comes to being at the arena and I’m in the bucking chutes, I’m not thinking about anything but riding bucking horses and winning.
“If you’re rodeoing on this stage you can’t be second-guessing or thinking about anything that might hinder what you’re trying to do. You’ve got to be full-in at that moment and know that this is the biggest stage in rodeo and you’ve got go full-out.”
Cress said his main concern will come after the ride.
“That’s going to be the crucial area where it might get twisted or I might get hung up in the stirrup getting off with the pick-up men,” he said. “I’m going to make sure and talk to the pick-up men and let them know it would be best if they could just stop so I can get off instead of getting off while they’re still moving. Try to minimize the little things that can hurt it.
“There are always injuries in rodeo, so I just can’t think about that. I have to have my mind 100 percent on what I need to do on the ride, and then whatever happens, happens.”