Jake and Clay: Together Again

Losing my thumb at the National Finals last year, when I was in position to win another world title, was a devastating blow. Kory (Koontz) and I were rolling along, then, halfway through the NFR, the basket got turned upside down. It’s been a struggle physically and mentally. But freak things like that happen. Thank God it wasn’t a career-ending injury. Trying to get back to the level I was at when I got hurt has been tough. It was obvious that I wasn’t at that level for the longest time. But each month got better and better. It was probably July before I felt like I was getting pretty close. I roped with Dean Tuftin this year. He lives right down the road from me, and he was willing to rope with me while I was getting back on track. We gave it 110 percent, but it just wasn’t good enough to make it. We didn’t win at the right times. It wasn’t anybody’s fault. A lot of the top guys didn’t make the Finals this year. I still have a couple thumb surgeries ahead of me. Actually, by the time you’re reading this in December I’ll hopefully have the one scheduled for November 20 in Colorado Springs behind me. In this first operation, the plan is to pull the pad over the end of the bone, where the bone’s been exposed right under the skin and I’ve had a lot of sensitivity.

For some reason, Clay and I just have that mojo together. I’m looking forward to having one of the best years ever with him in 2007. I know my career’s drawing to an end, and I’ve really pushed myself the last couple years to keep myself in contention. I don’t know just how much I’ve got left in the tank, but I have a new horse I really like and I’ve been working really hard. I’m going to give it all I’ve got and see what I can muster up.

The doctor says it should take about 30 days to recover from each surgery, so I should be good to go for the first of the year. I won’t have the second surgery to trim some of the excess tissue so it’s not so bulky until I find another 30-day window, which could be a year from now. The doctor’s also thinking about cutting a nerve in my thumb so it’s not so sensitive all the time. If I had to rope bear-handed right now I couldn’t do it. If you’re wondering why they don’t just do all this at once it’s because of the compromised blood supply. The good news is I should be ready the first of the year barring any unforeseen setbacks. I don’t even think about my thumb or shoulder anymore. The mental part of getting over all that is behind me. I have a whole new outlook on my roping career now. This kind of feels like the last hurrah. I’ve really been blessed. I’ve gotten to rope with some of the greatest heelers of all time-Clay O’Brien Cooper, Leo Camarillo, Allen Bach and Kory Koontz. I haven’t had very many partners in my career, but they’ve all been great. And out of all of them, Clay and I have had the most success together. In case you haven’t heard, Clay and I are going to give it another go in 2007.

Every team goes through tough times where you’re getting up bad or drawing bad, and it can start weighing on you. The pressure mounts, and it’s easy to get frustrated. Like every other team, Clay and I have been through all that. You just have to stay sharp, keep your horse strong and work through it. But in the end, for Clay and I not to rope together seems almost silly, given our track record.

I’m really excited about the new year. This is a huge opportunity, and you have to capitalize on opportunities. I have a great partner. We’ve had tons of success together, and we have good horses. The deal with my hand should be pretty much behind me, and I can’t wait to see what we can do.

I’m looking forward to a great season in 2007, just like 50 other teams out there. It’s an even playing field. That’s what makes it so fun to be a part of and so much fun to watch. Everyone’s trying to create a new dynasty. Everybody wants to be the next dominant team. I’m really excited about building our team back.

My expectations for 2007 are not only to make the Finals, but to be in contention for the world title. That’s how Clay and I have always gone at it. We have a lot of company in that goal now, but my motivation is no different than it has been the last 20-some years. There’s so much young talent out there now, and they’re all fighting to be king of the hill. Some of the older guys are starting to fall off the block. There will be a lot of pressure, as always, but I thrive on that. And I have so much confidence in Clay. I’m pumped. I can’t wait. I’m like a kid in a candy store. SWR

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