PUEBLO, Colo. – Koal Livingston was getting sick and tired of hitting the dirt inside T-Mobile Arena.
Every time his 135-pound and weakened bodied was tossed by a 1,500-pound bucking bull, Livingston could feel the ligaments in his left shoulder continue to stretch, tear and burn as his shoulder would pop out of socket.
Livingston, though, would grit his teeth and attempt to crawl and pick himself up as the frustration and pain only continued to worsen during those fall nights last November in Las Vegas.
The Burleson, Texas, cowboy would be hunkered over by the time he got to sports medicine, holding his mangled left shoulder and trying to keep his painful moans at a minimum.
All the teenager wanted to accomplish last year was to qualify and ride at the PBR World Finals for the first time.
It was a dream that began from the moment he first attempted a calf at 4 years old.
It was why he made the decision six months earlier to hold off on getting reconstructive left shoulder surgery until after the PBR World Finals.
Still, this wasn’t the World Finals he dreamed of as a little boy growing up in X Texas.
Livingston finally got rewarded for his guts and determination when he finally made the 8-second mark on Championship Sunday when he rode Decoded for 55 points.
The ride was by far nothing special, and he was awarded a re-ride opportunity, but Livingston was out of gas. His body had finally reached its limit.
“I was glad to say I at least got one down, but I am not satisfied at all,” Livingston said. “It was the very last round and I was all beat up. I knew I was getting worked on afterward anyways.”
The choice was risky too, as there was the chance his shoulder would prevent him from qualifying for the World Finals.
“It was a big decision I made,” Livingston admitted. “I talked to a few different guys that have been here and done that. Cooper Davis told me to try and tough through the year and go ahead and finish in that Top 35 to where I can get my five events for this year. I just started taping it down whenever it started popping out and just tried to finish it out. I did and it paid off. I got my five events and I am ready to go.”
Livingston made his season-debut two weeks ago at the Columbus Invitational, presented by Cooper Tires, after Dr. Tandy Freeman performed the offseason shoulder surgery in November.
The 19-year-old hasn’t waited long to make an impact either.
He began his return with 86.25 points on Lab Rat in Columbus for his first qualified ride in 5 months and 24 days.
“I feel great. A little rusty, but it feels good,” Livingston said. “I just felt like I could have been a little more in control. I was a little sloppy. I was giving it everything I got. I was determined to make it.”
Livingston then upped his game the next week at Last Cowboy Standing, presented by Ariat, at Helldorado Days, with a career-high 89 points on Anthrax to win Round 2.
“He was right there around the right, and he kind of pulled me down after a second,” Livingston said. “I started back up and kept on pumping, moving and hustling. It worked out. Heck, I could have gave up at any point it felt like, but it ended up working out.”
It was a statement ride from Livingston, who has been adamant that no one has truly seen what he is capable since he first arrived on tour last January in Sacramento, California.
Livingston, who finished fourth at Last Cowboy Standing, concluded 2017 35th in the world standings after going only 10-for-52 in 21 PBR premier series events.
“You definitely haven’t seen my best,” Livingston said. “I started having these shoulder problems before I even made it. It just kept getting worse and worse as the year went on last year. I had surgery after the Finals and shoot it is just clicking. Everything is feeling good.
“Nobody has seen me healthy yet. Never. I am ready to show all of ya’ll what I got.”
Two-time World Champion Justin McBride came away impressed by Livingston’s performance.
McBride admitted he forgot how beat up Livingston was last year, and the fact that he was still a teenager.
“I was impressed with Koal Livingston,” McBride said. “I forget that kid is only 19 and has been packing his shoulder around the whole time he was 18. He did good.”
Livingston has gained about 10 pounds of muscle since last year and is 3-for-6 through two events.
The No. 55 ranked bull rider in the world standings is planning on trying to crack the Top 35 before summer’s end, and he has a full slate of events on his calendar to make that goal a reality.
Livingston is beginning his summer run Friday night at the Nipawin Rona PBR Classic PBR Canada Touring Pro Division event in Saskatchewan before competing at the PBR Canada Monster Energy Tour event in Ottawa on Saturday.
The second-year pro has been relying on a good veteran bull rider to help him through his return in Matt Triplett.
Triplett also made his return to competition two weeks ago from offseason left shoulder surgery, and this is his second time in three years making a comeback from reconstructive shoulder surgery.
Triplett said he sees World Champion potential in his traveling partner, and that is the kind of guy he wants to be traveling with.
“Me and Koal are perfect for each other,” Triplett said. “He is like a Gage Gay, and I can’t wait for him to come back as well. We push each other. That is what you want in a traveling partner. When he was 89 points that just fired me up because I am rooming with him. When you got someone that is pushing you, it makes you try that much harder. We are going to travel all summer. We are going to head up to Canada and just hit it hard.
“I keep on telling him, ‘We gave everybody a head start so we are going to show them how we shine.’”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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