DULUTH, Ga. – It’s been a whirlwind of a week for two-time World Champion Jess Lockwood as the 25-year-old prepared to make his long-anticipated return Saturday night at the PBR Gwinnett Chute Out.
Nearly a year in the making since his last out, Feb. 11, 2022, Lockwood strolled into Gas South Arena earlier that afternoon for a PBR content shoot with roughly 10 hours of sleep in the past three days.
Not the only competitive rider in the relationship, his girlfriend Paige Jones was slated to compete within the barrel racing world in Denver during the week, but the region had recently endured a sizeable snowstorm Tuesday night into Wednesday morning.
Hesitant to make the drive alone from her home in Wayne, Oklahoma, Jones offered to skip the event to ensure Lockwood was good to go for his 2023 Unleash The Beast debut.
But the veteran understood how important competing, riding and spending time with his counterpart meant to them both. Knowing the right move in the back of his mind, he jumped into the car and headed north for Colorado.
“Been to quite a few shows, especially since I’ve been hurt the last year. I didn’t have anything to do but be a barrel racing boyfriend,” Lockwood joked.
What would normally be a pretty standard 10-hour drive to the Mile High City quickly (slowly) turned into more than a 21-hour trek through some back roads. With most of the freeways and even some county roads closed, the pair averaged around 35 mph, having no choice but to take the slow and steady approach.
“I love going with her to these things, too. I’ve ridden in amateur rodeos, youth rodeos growing up, but ever since I turned 18, it’s just been PBRs,” Lockwood said. “I love going with her because it’s just nice to see a different scene, just be there to hang out. I know so many of those rodeo people, it’s fun for me, I love going with her. It’s fun helping and being in a different scene.”
While the couple made it to the event safely, Jones placed fourth in the long round, missing the championship action by one spot, as the circuit accepted the Top 3. So, the duo began their trek back to Oklahoma, getting in late Friday night.
When Lockwood’s alarm clock went off a few hours later Saturday morning to catch a flight to Atlanta, the rider hadn’t logged much rest, but it was time to get back to work.
“I felt tired, but I was excited at the same time, I think that’s what’s kept me going until now. Just being really excited to be back riding and riding the practice bulls I did before I came back,” Lockwood shared.
Stepping back into the chutes for the first time in nearly an entire year and slated to participate in the fifth out of the night, Lockwood was surrounded by cameras minutes before the sold-out event began.
But as a two-time champion, he was used to the limelight, and graciously leaped right back into it, recording his first qualified ride in nearly 350 days. Besting his opponent Spotted Rust and immediately taking the event lead, the crowd couldn’t have been more electric when his 88.25-point score was announced throughout the arena.j
As easy as the veteran made it look Saturday night, his body hasn’t fully accepted his return quiet yet.
“I’m not in bull riding shape, I can tell you that much,” Lockwood shared, laughing his conditioning status off in the locker room following the spectacle. “I got off and I was pumped up and then I got out of the arena and my adrenaline starts wearing off, I’m like ‘somebody get me a freaking oxygen tank.’”
Enjoying the cheers, thankful to be back riding, Lockwood took it all in as the emotions rushed back.
“Riding the bulls is fun, but the most fun part is when you do ride one, and you hit the ground and get away, especially my first one back like that, I felt 10 ft. tall and bulletproof. I can do anything right then.”
Needless to say, Lockwood will remember this return for a while, as it’s a reflective reminder of the journey he’s endured in the past year.
“It sticks out from others because I feel like myself again. Getting hurt in March of 2020, coming back from that and riding while being hurt but not knowing it, thinking I sucked, not knowing why I can’t stay on anything,” the veteran detailed.
“Then surgery, get hurt again last February, no surgery but I sat out for forever. Then I hurt my knee this last August, before I came back to the Teams stuff, and that one was pretty freaking tough because I was so pumped up and felt so good on the couple of practice bulls I got on, it felt just like this, like my normal self again.”
While fans have witnessed live some of his injuries during the unfortunate stint, it was most recently a practice bull session in which the rider got banged up.
“Just a freak deal at the moment, rode one, got off like I have a thousand times and somehow my PCL explodes. I was so excited to ride that weekend, then that happens. For about two weeks there I was like ‘screw everything,’ I was so freaking over it,” Lockwood said.
“For something to break you like that, and have it happen the way it did, one in a million chance, no idea how it could happen. It was hard to stay positive there for a couple of weeks and just getting back into it and doing therapy and everything, it took me a couple of weeks. It was hard to keep a good mindset.”
Thankfully, Lockwood was able to prevail, courtesy of some convenient proximity to one of the world’s most elite bull fighters, an insane work ethic and a little TLC.
“She (Jones) lives in the same town as Cody Webster, I think he’s seven miles from us down the road. I’ve got some of the bulls I own down there with me for the winter, and I just take them over to his house these last couple of weeks and ride there. I got Webster, the best bull fighter in the world, and had such a good mindset coming back, riding at his place and all that, that was really good and it felt so freaking good on those bulls. I felt like my normal self again. I haven’t felt that in a while, it just felt easy again.”
Instantly translating back to the world’s largest bull riding stage, Lockwood surged from an unranked status to No. 42 in the Unleash The Beast standings by collecting 23 UTB points and tying Koltin Hevalow for the event win. Jones looked on in adoration, proud of her partner and ready to crash.
“It’s time to go to sleep,” an exhausted Lockwood concluded at the end of the evening.
Lockwood will look to stay perfect in 2023 as Round 2 and the championship go are slated to wrap up the Northern Georgia action Sunday. Fans can catch both rounds beginning at 8 p.m. EST on CBS Sports Network and stay tuned to PBR.com and PBR social media channels for the latest updates, results, stories and beyond.
Article Courtesy of PBR
Photo courtesy of Andy Watson/Bull Stock Media