LAS VEGAS – Skeeter Kingsolver pauses when asked if the thought of retirement had crossed his mind during the last few seasons.
Kingsolver had qualified for the PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals in each of his first three PBR seasons before a dislocated left shoulder (riding arm) in the practice pen led to nerve damage and season-ending surgery in 2011.
Since then, Kingsolver has never qualified for the World Finals and has finished no higher than 57th in the world standings.
He simply never returned to his prior form.
“No,” Kingsolver responded before picking his words carefully. “I mean I guess since there was a little bit of a pause (I did). Just because things do get discouraging. I tore my shoulder up. I had a bunch of nerve damage. I came back and used my five events and didn’t get in the Top 35. That is what happened.”
Kingsolver is now a weekend away from finally tasting Las Vegas glory again.
The 28-year-old heads into the Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour Finals on Saturday night No. 1 in the Velocity Tour standings.
Fans can watch the Velocity Tour Finals exclusively on PBR.com and the PBR mobile app beginning at 10 p.m. ET.
A Velocity Tour Championship, or a finish in the top-two of the final standings or event average, would give Kingsolver a wild card spot for the upcoming World Finals on Nov. 1-5 at T-Mobile Arena.
“It would be so awesome,” Kingsolver said. “That’s the goal for sure. A lot of money up for grabs. I am pumped. I am sitting No. 1. There are a lot of points up for grabs here too. I am just living in the moment and not taking anything for granted. That is for sure. I am trying to push forward and be the best Skeeter.”
Kingsolver could also potentially crack the Top 35 of the world standings. He begins the three-day event 41st in the world and trails No. 35 Koal Livingston by 145 points.
The McLouth, Kansas, bull rider wouldn’t be in this situation without in large part because of his best friend Ryan Dirteater.
“Luckily, I have had friends there that have been pushing me and helping me. Family too,” Kingsolver said.
Kingsolver remembers watching Dirteater go 6-for-6 to win the 2016 World Finals event average last year on CBS Sports Network.
He called Dirteater to congratulate him on the victory, while Dirteater said thanks and reminded Kingsolver he would one day be back on the big stage beside him.
Dirteater has continuously been trying to motivate Kingsolver to not give up on his dream of making it back to the World Finals and riding again full time on the Built Ford Tough Series.
“Skeet has always had the talent and ability to be here,” Dirteater said. “That confidence just hasn’t been there. He has always been positive to me. I know when I am down, he is always been there for me. When he struggled, I have been there for him. He is a buddy. A brother.”
Kingsolver competed in five BFTS event this year as an alternate and went 1-for-9. Kingsolver’s 83.5-point ride on Lil Hank in San Jose, California, last weekend was only his sixth at the BFTS level since his shoulder surgery.
“It is still not as strong as I would like it to be,” Kingsolver said. “It is my riding arm. It is good. I can keep it where it needs to be. Things can always feel better all the time.”
Kingsolver is 14-for-33 (42.42 percent) with three victories and six Top-5 finishes on the Velocity Tour.
Dirteater and Kingsolver grew up competing against each other, beginning with pee wee bulls, and used to be traveling partners with Austin Meier before injuries derailed Kingsolver’s career.
A little less than two years before Kingsolver’s shoulder injury, Dirteater’s career nearly came to an end when he dislocated his left knee and tore his ACL, PCL and MCL in Uncasville, Connecticut.
It took Dirteater nine months before he attempted to ride a bull again and 14 months to make his way back onto the Built Ford Tough Series.
Just as Dirteater has been mentally coaching Kingsolver through the ups and downs of the last six years, Kingsolver was in his buddy’s ear throughout 2010 as Dirteater went through a rigorous rehab process to return to bull riding.
Coincidentally, Dirteater would return in 2011 and qualify for the World Finals, whereas Kingsolver was unable to ride at the Finals because of his shoulder surgery.
“He was there too,” Dirteater said. “Me going through injuries, he was always there being positive to me. Just like him, he is struggling, and I am there for him. That is what you are supposed to do. We are a family here, and we are brothers. I am there for him. He is there for me.”
Dirteater is not competing at this weekend’s Velocity Tour Finals. Instead, he is preparing for his seventh consecutive trip to the World Finals on Wednesday.
The Hulbert, Oklahoma, native is hoping he will have his buddy finally alongside him on the PBR’s grandest stage.
“I am just happy to see him here, and I want to see him qualify for the Finals this year and be right back here,” Dirteater said. “He needs to be here. He rides good enough.
“I would love for him to win the Velocity deal. That is a $50,000 bonus. He deserves it.”
Kingsolver believes a Velocity Tour championship will be exactly what he needs to not only return to the World Finals, but to regain the mentality of believing he is one of the best bull riders in the world.
“That would definitely be the resurgence right there,” Kingsolver concluded. “I am really looking forward to it.”