Beau Schroeder will remember March 24 for the rest of his life.
That was the day a bull stomped on him at an Xtreme Bulls event in Mojave, Ariz., tearing his trachea and giving him two collapsed lungs. Airlifted to University Medical Center in Las Vegas, Schroeder underwent emergency surgery to repair his trachea and was in intensive care for weeks.
The catastrophic injury nearly took the China, Texas, cowboy’s life and sidelined him for three months. Unable to compete, Schroeder’s bills kept coming – as bills will do – and he was forced to turn to a program that has aided more than 1,000 cowboys and rodeo personnel since its inception in 1989: the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund.
The JCCF in a non-profit fund established by the late John Justin of Justin Boots in a partnership with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association dedicated to helping those injured in the arena. Since 1989, it has contributed $6.52 million to injured athletes, with 100 percent of donations going directly to those who get hurt.
“The Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund is all about the rodeo community helping their own,” said Cindy Schonholtz, JCCF program administrator. “Generous donors support the Fund, which allows us to give ‘a hand up’ to those who are injured. It has become an important part of the rodeo industry.”
Unlike other sports, there is no guaranteed money in ProRodeo, so injured athletes need a helping hand when they are bitten by the injury bug.
“It takes care of your bills and gives you money to come back and rodeo on, and it just helps you get out of a tight spot,” said Schroeder, who also used the Fund in 2011 when he broke his right leg for the third time of his career. “We don’t get paid if we don’t ride anyway, and when we’re hurt, we really can’t ride or get paid. So, it really helps to have something to fall back on.”
Schroeder’s injury in March was simply frightening.
“It was a bad deal and scared me pretty bad,” said Schroeder, the 2012 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo bull riding average champion. “But everybody else thought I was going to die. Ardie Maier told me that, when they shut the ambulance doors, he didn’t think he’d ever see me again. Apparently, it looked pretty bad.
“We all know what we face when we climb in those bucking chutes, but you just don’t ever think it can happen to you.”
But it does happen in rodeo on a frequent basis. Injuries are as much of a guarantee in the sport as dirt and sweat, so the JCCF is a support system that is always in need.
“That’s our worker’s comp, or whatever, and it really helps us out,” Schroeder said. “Diesel isn’t free, and when they give you that money to be able to pay your bills and come back and rodeo on, it means the world to you.”
Schroeder returned to action on June 26 in Pecos, Texas, and came back with a vengeance. He made the eight-second whistle on his first ride and finished tied for second and pocket more than $3,000, a welcomed return for the competitive cowboy who was 32nd in the world as of Aug. 19.
“It was nerve-racking, but I went out there and turned in an 89-point ride,” he said of his return. “I was pretty excited to be able to crack back out like that. I feel pretty good and am just enjoying the rest of the year. I’m going to keep going to the rest of them this year.”
Two-time Wrangler NFR tie-down roper Nate Baldwin knows how liberating and helpful the JCCF can be, as well.
He underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee eight months ago and was contemplating retirement before leaning on the JCCF to help him and his family. Baldwin, who has two Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo titles on his resume, was able to have a long and deliberate rehabilitation schedule that allowed him to come back at 100 percent rather than rushing to chase checks too early.
“It was huge to be able to focus on that,” Baldwin said of his rehabilitation. “I was able to go every day for two or two-and-a-half hours to rehab and get the right help I needed. It was awesome. I can’t believe how good and healthy I feel right now.”
Before the JCCF stepped in, the 39-year-old was “playing hurt,” competing on a knee that was in need of repair.
“I had torn my ACL in my knee, and I had rodeoed with it torn for a year-and-a-half,” said Baldwin, who competed at the Wrangler NFR in 2002 and 2007. “I tried to rodeo with my knee, but I ended up hurting it even worse.”
With the JCCF as his partner, Baldwin was able to recover and is rejuvenated as he competes each week. The Fund has allowed him to set his sights on achievements he would like to add to his list.
“I knew there were some other things I wanted to accomplish, and it just gave me an option to be able to do that,” Baldwin said. “They were great about helping me, and I could see that, with that help, I was going to be able to keep my plan, keep my goals and be able to rodeo.”
Now healed and optimistic, Baldwin is ready to make waves again in ProRodeo.
“My whole confidence in myself has changed this year,” said Baldwin, who was 31st on the PRCA money list as of Aug. 19. “Being able to make the Canadian Finals and having a chance to make the NFR again has really changed everything. It’s changed my outlook on rodeo.”
Baldwin believes the JCCF has helped legitimize being a full-time ProRodeo competitor and given cowboys the freedom to pursue their dreams with every ounce of their competitive fire.
“It really makes true professionals out of cowboys, because rodeo has changed so much and people have committed so much to it,” he said. “There are a lot of professionals who have given a lot to the sport, and to have that option and that security blanket is a great thing.
“If you’re a professional cowboy, it’s hard because you’ve committed everything and you’re all in. When you’re all in and get an injury like that, it’s very difficult.”
Baldwin’s recovery has enabled him and his family to dictate what the rest of his career will entail, rather than simply accepting what is doled out to him by fate and circumstances. It’s an enlightening freedom.
“Whether I have one, two or three years left, that decision’s going to be on me and will be for my wife and me,” he said. “That’s a great feeling to be able to do that instead of having injuries make your plans for you. It’s going to help me with the different avenues outside rodeo I decide to take, because it’s going to be on my terms and helps the timing of everything.”
He is proof the JCCF is a program for everyone involved in rodeo and not just for one segment of the ProRodeo population.
“The Cowboy Crisis Fund, I’d always thought about it as being for bull riders who get the heck beat out of them,” Baldwin said. “It was an option I’d never considered and never really knew about. It is a great organization and was a great help.”