PUEBLO, Colo. ― Markus Mariluch’s fellow bull riders began to “dog” him when the 28-year-old from Elko, Nev., stepped on top of the shark cage in Fayetteville, N.C., and selected Great White for the Fort Bragg Wounded Soldier Foundation Invitational.
Yet, what did Mariluch have to lose? He had basically given up on qualifying for the Built Ford Tough Series and the 2013 World Finals for the rest of the year, and until a week prior in Grand Rapids, Mich., he hadn’t competed on the PBR’s marquee circuit in over two months.
So what did it matter that Great White had bucked off 18 straight riders on the BFTS, or that the Jeff Robinson bull was responsible for dislocating Mariluch’s shoulder in Austin, Texas, in January 2012?
“I rode my first bull (Unpredictable) and bucked off my second one (Mr. Show Biz) and was surprised I made the short round,” Mariluch said. “I had been on that Great White before, but I had watched a lot of guys get on him and I just told myself if you run your rope up as far up as you can go and stay out over him, he shouldn’t be too hard to ride.
“I know everybody was dogging on me for picking him, but it ended up working out.”
Mariluch received only 74 points and turned down a re-ride option. Yet, he would be the only rider to make the 8-second whistle in the championship round and it propelled him to a fifth-place finish, a career high.
It was an important ride, though, and after placing 23rd the next week in Hollywood, Fla., Mariluch qualified for the World Finals.
It was an unexpected turn of events.
“I was kind of over it because I didn’t think I was going to get on tour,” Mariluch said. “I kind of dropped down in the standings, and when they called me for Grand Rapids, I was really surprised.”
In Grand Rapids, Mariluch revitalized his season with a 2-for-3 performance for an eighth-place finish as an alternate, sparking a late-season run to Las Vegas for Finals.
Mariluch will bring an increased level of confidence into 2014 after going 2-for-6 at World Finals – good for 14th overall ― and has a guaranteed spot in the draw for the first five BFTS events in 2014 – which gets underway in New York on Jan. 3 at Madison Square Garden.
“That’s the nice thing about it, “Mariluch said. “You just go there and all you have to do is ride. You’re not an alternate, you’re actually there. All you have to do is stay on and you get to keep going.”
It is a relief for the right-handed rider after competing in New York and Chicago in 2013 on an injury exemption. Mariluch had a good showing in New York with a 13th-place finish, but failed to ride a bull in Chicago and fell off tour.
He admitted that riding as an alternate was certainly a mental challenge at times.
“Well, in Chicago it was, and it was kind of eating up at me,” Mariluch continued. “All I had to do was stay on one bull there, and I would have got to go to the next event. It just sucks when it is like that, because it is always in the back of your mind, and when it is like that, you get to trying too hard and you get frustrated and nothing works out.”
It has been an uphill battle with a variety of unforeseen challenges.
Two years ago, Mariluch looked primed to make the next step in his career after winning four Touring Pro Division events and winning Round 2 of the Indianapolis BFTS event with an 87.5-point ride aboard I’m Back. However, he injured his shoulder riding Bird Creek in Pendleton, Ore., over the Fourth of July and had to undergo season-ending surgery after competing at eight BFTS events.
Then, following a seven-month recovery, Mariluch appeared to be back on track this year after winning Mike White’s bull riding event in Texarkana, Ark., at the end of March to qualify for the BFTS event in Billings, Mont. Once again though, an unlucky injury struck Mariluch, as Pandemic’s horn hit him during the championship round, breaking his left forearm, causing him to miss a month of action. It was one round after Mariluch had ridden How We Roll for a career-high 87.75 points.
Markus Mariluch rides Cooper Tires How We Roll for 87.75 points in Round 2 of the 2013 PBR BFTS Stanley Make Something Great Invitational in Billings, Mont.
“I have had two surgeries in less than a year,” Mariluch said. “I am done with it.”
Mariluch competed in a total of nine BFTS events this past season and rode 11 bulls on his way to a career-best $62,769 dollars.
Now with a guaranteed spot on the BFTS to start 2014, Mariluch hopes that his unlucky run of injuries the past two seasons has come to an end and he can put together his first full season on tour.
“It was just a freak deal, but my plan this year is just to stay healthy and try and be consistent as can be,” he said. “My goal this year, I mean, I would love to win the world title, but if not, then to be in the Top 10.
“I think if I had a full year and stayed healthy, I could easily do it.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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