SALT LAKE CITY — It was the middle of February when bull rider Nathan Schaper was sidelined.
He was ranked seventh at the time and suffered a severely broken leg.
Fast-forward five months and he is back riding — and winning.
The North Dakota cowboy was the only rider to go two-for-two, accumulating a total score of 167, Monday evening at the Days of ’47 Rodeo Professional Bull Riding Event at EnergySolutions Arena.
“I’m feeling great,” Schaper said afterward. “I had five months off, so I’m not too sore yet.”
It was Feb. 8 when Schaper drew Bushwacker, a bull that consistently poses a challenge for riders, in the LiftMaster Invitational in Anaheim, California. He made it halfway through the ride, and then he was on crutches.
“I came out and I rode him for about four seconds,” he said. “I lost my feet and came down beside him, and he just stepped on top of my leg and snapped it.”
Both the tibia and the fibula in his left leg were broken, leading to a 40-centimeter rod, four screws, six weeks of crutches and five months of rehabilitation before he could return to the sport.
Returning, though, was never in question.
“Unfortunately it’s going to happen. You just hope and pray it’s not going to be too bad. You’ve got to take it all in stride,” he said Monday. “If it wasn’t for all that, being a world champion at the end of the year or winning events, it wouldn’t feel as good. It’s the obstacles that you have to overcome, that is really what feels good.”
Finally feeling back to normal on a bull, Schaper got back to his winning ways Monday, bookending the event with qualifying rides.
He opened the night with Glitter Bug and a score of 79.5. He accounted for one of just seven successful rides in the first round, which included 35 riders.
In the finals, which brought back the top 12 scores or times, Schaper was one of just two to post a score, earning an 87.5 on Mister Clark for his 167-point total.
“I think I’m back to feeling pretty normal,” he said, noting the Days of ’47 PBR was his second competition and his ninth and 10th bulls since the injury. “The last two bulls I got on in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, last weekend I felt like I was finally feeling normal. It took about six to kind of get everything back, but the last four have felt great.”
The only other person with a qualifying ride in the final round was Kurt Shepard, an Australian cowboy who competed in Australia Saturday night before boarding a 15-hour flight bound for Salt Lake City. He arrived just three hours before the first chute opened and scored 87.5 for second overall.
Scottie Knapp placed third with a score of 87 on Pichacho in the opening round and Markus Mariluch was fourth with an 81 on Duck Butter in the opening round.
There were two local riders competing in the event: brothers Brady and Casey Sullivan, both of Erda, Utah. The former drew Jr. Jacket and the latter drew Snake Bite but neither posted a score.
Following the PBR event in Salt Lake City, the Days of ’47 moves on to five days of rodeo while the bull riders follow the PBR Tour. For Schaper, that is after a short break.
“I go home. I’ve got probably seven days off, then we go to Big Sky, Montana, next week,” he said. “My buddy is getting married next Saturday. All of us are going to his wedding. I’m actually looking forward to that.”
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.