LAS VEGAS – On Friday night, Eli Vastbinder was back in his hotel room at the New York-New York Hotel & Casino, where he found himself in a dilemma.
Vastbinder was already having difficulty breathing after breaking multiple ribs during Round 3 of the 2021 PBR World Finals, and he was unable to bend over to take off his socks.
Therefore, Vastbinder eventually called his friend Boudreaux Campbell – the 2020 PBR Rookie of the Year – in search of a helping hand.
Earlier in the night, Vastbinder had accepted a re-ride option after he separated his right shoulder (riding arm) and broke his ribs attempting to ride Whiskey Bent.
Somehow, someway, Vastbinder went on to ride Hell on the Red for 90 points before needing to be assisted off of the dirt inside T-Mobile Arena by the PBR Sports Medicine Team.
The 30-year-old did not stop there.
Vastbinder came back on Saturday night and once again battled through his broken ribs to post another 90-point ride, this time aboard 2021 ABBI Classic Champion Juju. Once again, he had to be carried to the PBR Sports Medicine room, where doctors would evaluate him to make sure none of his ribs potentially punctured his lungs. Vastbinder would then spend about 30-45 minutes sitting in the sports medicine room or locker room, barely able to breathe.
“There is nothing they can do,” Vastbinder said before gasping for air. “They got my shoulder taped down and taped my ribs. There is not much they can do to help prevent it from hurting any worse.”
Miraculously, the Statesville, North Carolina, native then did the same thing on Championship Sunday, overcoming his broken ribs less than 13 hours after his ride on Juju to win Round 5 of the PBR World Finals and clinch the 2021 Rookie of the Year title with 92.75 points on Medicine Man.
“It is really cool,” Vastbinder said. “You always want to win the Rookie of the Year. Honestly, of all the associations I have ever been to, this is the first Rookie of the Year I won. I think this is the best group of rookies I have seen between Chase (Dougherty), Junior (Patrik Souza), Austin (Richardson), Jesse Petri and everybody. It is definitely awesome to win, but when you can beat guys like that, it is even better.”
Vastbinder finished the PBR World Finals 4-for-6 and in fifth place overall to usurp Souza, who was unable to compete Sunday because of a broken right femur, for the Rookie of the Year title. Vastbinder led all riders with four 90-point rides after never reaching the 90-point threshold on the premier series until this week in Las Vegas.
“I’m so pumped for him, that’s one of the best guys in the locker room and I’m so glad to call him one of my best friends,” Campbell said.
While the 90-point rides are certainly impressive, what will forever live with Vastbinder’s Rookie of the Year title was the grittiness and toughness he put forth inside T-Mobile Arena.
“Oh, you really don’t have an option,” Vastbinder said, brushing off the topic about his toughness. “It doesn’t hurt too bad before I get on and in the bucking chutes. It is just after. It is breathtaking for quite a while. I don’t feel it when I ride. It is just when I hit the ground and I feel it. There is not much toughness other than dealing with it afterwards for the next hour or so, just until you get the breath back and things ease up a bit.
“I rodeoed for years. I ride bulls. It is no different if it was anybody else. They all would have done the same thing I was doing right now. It just sucks I was the one that had to do it at the Finals.”
1995 PBR Rookie of the Year J.W. Hart appreciated seeing Vastbinder ride for 90 points despite having to crawl away in pain.
Not that Hart wanted Vastbinder, who began the Finals by winning Round 1 with 91 points on Manaba, to be hurting, but it is that kind of old-school toughness that Hart wants to see more of from this generation of riders.
“That is cool to me,” Hart said. “I’ve never not really been a fan of Eli, but he was just a common guy. But I am impressed with his toughness. When you climb into that chute, and you take that shoulder separation and those broken ribs, there are not many guys, whether they ride good, bad, or indifferent, who can do that. There is no pain block. It is a mental block, and he is capable of doing it. That rings close to my heart right there, that toughness.
“I like guys when they are tough, and they got no quit in them. Eli Vastbinder is what I want to see.”
It was more than 11 years ago when fellow North Carolina native and future two-time World Champion J.B. Mauney helped pay for Vastbinder’s plane ticket so Vastbinder, then 18 years old, could enter his first PBR event.
Now Vastbinder is in the PBR record books right alongside Mauney as a fellow Rookie of the Year.
Mauney said he was not surprised to see Vastbinder battle through his broken ribs this week.
“I’ve known him for a long time,” Mauney said. “Play the game, take the pain. He is pretty tough.”
Vastbinder finished 2021 ninth in the world standings after going 20-for-57 on the premier series with three Top-5 finishes. He ended the year 169.5 points ahead of No. 2 rookie Souza and 210 points in front of No. 3 Chase Dougherty.
Dougherty, the 2018 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo event winner, rodeoed alongside Vastbinder for years and tipped his hat to the newly minted Rookie of the Year.
“I have known Eli for quite a while,” Dougherty said. “It is not really a surprise he is doing it. He has rodeoed his whole life. He has had to ride bulls with that kind of stuff before. He has made the NFR before. If you are going to make the NFR, you have to rodeo with some injuries. He has been in this situation before, maybe not this high pressure or this good of bulls consistently, but he has been here before.
“He is cowboy through and through.”
The only thing Vastbinder would have liked to change was having his wife, Paige, and his baby girls alongside him in Las Vegas.
It has been less than two weeks since Paige and Eli welcomed their twins, Blake and Blair, to the world on Oct. 25, and now Vastbinder has $135,500 to spend on diapers if he wants to.
“Oh shoot, she wasn’t mad about me riding hurt,” Vastbinder said. “She is tickled to death. She is at home and has had her hands full. It sure would have been nice to have somebody take my socks off instead of Boudreaux, but this will work.”
Article Courtesy of PBR
Photo By: Andy Watson/ Bull Stock Media