Fear and aching in Las Vegas

Part of the good news from Round 1 of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo was the fact there were no cowboys who appeared on the Justin Sportsmedicine Team’s injury report after the performance. This writer, however, could have been on the list.

As I mentioned in a previous post, I was suffering from lower-back spasms yesterday and had to “Cowboy Up” to finish out the day and get my work done. It was a day that included me lying prone on my hotel room floor after one particularly diabolical spasm, and I couldn’t help but think it was odd that a back spasm would be the reason I was on the floor instead of a raucous night of partying.

But I digress.

I was afraid my debilitating back condition – a flare-up of a nearly 20-year-old wrestling injury from high school – would ruin my plans of covering the Wrangler NFR thoroughly and with vigor for all 10 days. I made it through the day, but I had some help from some dedicated and talented medical professionals.

I went by the Justin Sportsmedicine Room, located in the back hallway in the bowels of the Thomas & Mack Center, hours before the performance to ask for some simple pharmaceutical relief, but instead received the all-star treatment ProRodeo cowboys have become accustomed to.

Wrangler NFR contestants are regulars in the Justin SportsMedicine treatment room.

I know Justin Sportsmedicine Program Director Rick Foster, Executive Director Mike Rich and Dr. Tandy Freeman from my days as ProRodeo Sports News editor, but I never expected to have the staff go so far to help me. They fitted me with an electronic stimulus unit that consists of sticky pads that were attached to my lower back and connected to a beeper-looking regulator that allows you to adjust the intensity of the impulses.

The impulses make your muscles contract and relax repeatedly, and, in the process, loosen up over time. I wore it for the entirety of the performance as I worked on my night’s blog, and it certainly helped.

After the rodeo and after the cowboys had received their post-performance treatments, I returned the apparatus to the room and was pleasantly surprised when Shawn Scott, D.C., a chiropractor from outside Llano, Texas, offered to help me with some stretching. Like the cowboys I’d seen numerous times, I laid down on one of the long treatment benches while Dr. Scott went to work.

With slow, deliberate movements and a variety of stretches, we were able to get my muscles to relax quite a bit, and I stopped walking like a demented Frankenstein character. A good smattering of Flexall 454 pain gel and some ibuprofen samples, and I was on my way out to chase down my next blog entry feeling like a new man.

Dr. Scott worked on me again hours before Round 2, applying heat and the electronic stimulus before going through the stretching regimen with me again and slathering on more 454.

“The lengths you’ll go for a story,” my media pal Susan Kanode said.

Trust me, I didn’t mean to interject myself into the story this way a la the great Hunter S. Thompson, but I suppose it was unavoidable. No more fast food or Dairy Queen Blizzard desserts for me for a while, and it will be time to put my Gold’s Gym membership to work when I get back home to Colorado Springs!

Foster and I talked about me implementing a core-strengthening regimen when I return home, and I feel like I’m in good hands going forward.

I’d always known the Justin Sportsmedicine Team was a great group of doctors, athletic trainers and clinicians, but I have experienced it firsthand this week. Simply put, they’re the best at what they do.

Rich said the Team now works 125 rodeos a year, and they’re usually never busier than at the Wrangler NFR. From helping cowboys stretch sore muscles, get taped up to compete, deal with nagging or new injuries or applying heat or ice to treat various ailments, the Team does it all.

The group of 17 pros selected to work the Finals is a top-notch crew who rotate to staff the treatment room and keep the cowboys going strong.

Often times, they are the difference between a contestant making it through the rigors of the 10-day rodeo and finishing their season early. Most roughstock cowboys visit the treatment room on a daily basis, and Rich said they had approximately 58 cowboys come to the room for treatment or tape for Round 1.

Four-time World Champion Bareback Rider Bobby Mote was one cowboy who came by the room before Round 2, and he was happy to talk about what the Justin Sportsmedicine Team means to him and his fellow competitors.

“They keep us going all year long,” said Mote, who missed part of this season with broken ribs and a lacerated pancreas. “They’re the biggest asset we have and are invaluable to us. They know us and our bodies and have a passion for what they do.”

Mote said he is a regular visitor to the treatment room and that the services he receives help him function at full throttle.

“I spend a total of an hour-and-a-half in here every day before and after the performance,” he said. “If you take care of things early in the week here (at the Wrangler NFR), then they won’t get worse later on. I’ve shown up here with injuries in the past, and (the Team) has kept me going.

“Their goal isn’t to send you home. They want you to keep going and performing at the highest level.”

Shawn Scott, D.C., helps bareback rider Steven Peebles stretch before Round 2.

Freeman, one of the busiest doctors you’ll find in Dallas and a cowboy favorite, has been part of the Justin Sportsmedicine Team since 1994. He has seen it all as far as rodeo injuries go, and he is one of the dedicated pros who work tirelessly to help the contestants.

“The cowboys let us know how important we are to them,” Freeman said. “Obviously, injuries play a big part in sports and in the outcome of things, and it has an especially big impact at the NFR. It’s the only rodeo all year where you have the same contestants competing for 10 days in a row, and there’s a big spotlight on everything. We’re not only treating injuries, but also preventing them, and that can be the difference between a successful season and an unsuccessful one.”

The Team sprang to action in Round 2 when saddle bronc rider Cody DeMoss was stepped on by Outlawbuckers Rodeo’s Lunatic Party after being bucked off. The crew worked on him for a while in the treatment room and discovered he broke the humeral head in his left shoulder and suffered a laceration to his left eyelid. He was listed as doubtful on the night’s injury report, but is expected to try and ride Saturday night.

If cowboys are hurt, they can’t compete and make money. There are no guaranteed contracts for ProRodeo athletes like in other sports, so they often have to grit their teeth and fight through the pain. But luckily enough, they have the Justin Sportsmedicine Team there by their side to lend a helping hand when needed.

Take it from me, they’re a great group that doesn’t get enough credit for all they do.

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