CODY, Wyo. Jess Martin is back.
Not the Jess Martin who has missed the last two National Finals Rodeos, but the mentally and physically complete Jess Martin who is competing at a world-class level again.
But he was never truly gone.
The Dillon cowboy, who turned 31 on July 1, discovered he had suffered a broken pelvis back in August of 1998. The injury occurred when Martin felt something pop during his saddle bronc ride at the Western MontanaFair Rodeo in Missoula.
At the time, he self-diagnosed it as a groin pull, or a muscle tear at the worst. He painfully pushed himself through the National Finals Rodeo, but did not ride up to his standards after finishing third in the world standings the year before.
After finishing 26th in the world standings in 1999, Dr. Tandy Freeman gave Martin the correct diagnosis.
Martin returned to finish 17th in the 2000 world standings, just $1,381 shy of returning to Las Vegas.
However, he was never truly comfortable in his saddle.
I thought I could ride through it," Martin said of his recovery. But I picked up a lot of bad habits along the way.
It was one of those deals that I was fighting it with my head for a couple of years. You dont think you are, but you are. I lost confidence in my ability to do this."
Martin had a decent winter season this year and was in and around the top 20 in the world standings. He disappeared in the spring, but has climbed back to 20th with a good run during the first few weeks of July.
Last winter, at the end of 2000, I started to feel good again," Martin said. But it still hurt to ride.
Now Ive got my confidence back."
The late starter for professional rodeo he played football at Western Montana College qualified for three straight NFRs, 1996-98. His best year was 1997 when he earned a personal best $139,284 and finished third behind world champion and Dan Mortensen and Ryan Mapston, giving the state of Montana a 1-2-3 sweep that year.
It just wasnt one ride," he said of regaining his confidence. But once I got to the point of making solid rides every day, I knew I was back.
Even at times last summer, I felt like a winner again."
Martin won a Wrangler ProRodeo Tour round at Vernal, Utah, and did well at the tour stops in Sisters, Ore., and Reno, Nev., to now lead the saddle bronc tour standings. The top 12 in each event qualify for the Copenhagen Cup Finale, Oct. 25-28 in Dallas.
The Copenhagen Cup Finale takes on added importance because the money won at that event counts in the world standings. And with the Finale a week before the regular season ends, it could be a major factor in determining the NFR field.
It changes your schedule a little bit," said Martin of adding the Wrangler rodeos. Like Fort Madison (Iowa, Sept. 8). I normally dont go to that one, this year I will.
I think the Copenhagen Cup stuff, all it does is boost our sport. When it looks like were making money, it brings attention to our sport. Thats what people notice, the money."
But Martin isnt worried about the Copenhagen Cup, thats three months away. He has other pressing matters.
Im not done trying to make the Finals yet," Martin said with a large smile. Right now, Im just getting things back in order and hitting the trail again. With a few good draws, I can put myself right back in this thing."