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Rollercoaster Year

11/28/2006

It has been a year of ups and downs for world champion saddle bronc rider Jeff Willert.

"My year this year is totally the opposite from last year. That's pretty much the best way to describe it," Willert said. "There seem to be more downs than ups. It seems like I could never get anything rolling. I do well at maybe one rodeo a weekend, but last year I'd do well at three or four a weekend.

"And I haven't been riding as well as I was last year. I broke my wrist in March, but before then I didn't feel like I was riding like I was last year."

Between the broken bones and feeling out of sync in his riding, Willert has battled all year to stay in the tops of the standings. After breaking the navicular bone in his left wrist, his riding arm, he had to take a three-month break from saddle bronc riding.

He tried to make his return at the Reno (Nev.) Rodeo in June, but said he "kind of injured it again" and has been wearing a brace on and off for the rest of the season.

"But that hasn't been the reason I'm riding like I am," Willert said. "I'm just so used to doing well from last year, that when I had a little bad streak … "

However, Willert has had his share of successes this season. He won in Cody, Wyo., Salt Lake City, Utah, and Fort Madison, Iowa, as well as several other smaller rodeos.

"I didn't think I'd ever have a bad day of rodeo again after winning the world," Willert said, laughing. "Really, it's totally the opposite. When you have a bad year rodeoing, you want to just come home and try to figure out how to do well again.

"I feel like I'm the same normal guy, but my expectations are just to get back to the Finals and then have a good Finals. I hate to have any higher expectations than that because winning the world is a hard deal."

But don't count him out on the fight for a second world title.

"I'm not saying I'm not going to try and win the world again," he said. "But I'm not exactly expecting to win again. I was shocked to do it the first time."