For rodeo fans, the first two weeks of December mean one thing. It’s time for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. But that’s not the only thing that starts in December. It’s also the start of “cold and flu season.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, flu season picks up in December and runs the gamut through February. Add the varying weather conditions, the thousands of people that are here, the lack of sleep, air quality, the various ways of getting dehydrated and lack of proper nutrition for our bodies, conditions are ripe for colds, flu and flu-like symptoms.
While the Justin Sportsmedicine Team is known for their treatment and prevention of athletic injuries, over the next 10 nights, they also expect about 20 percent of the NFR athletes to come in with symptoms of the flu. They will also provide care for wives, children and other family members. None of this care would be possible without the financial support of the Justin Boot company.
Just like doctors in urgent care clinics, the team is exposed to a little bit of everything. And, because they are trusted by the athletes competing for $10 million in prize money over the next 10 nights, they don’t get sick days. For that reason, along with preparing for the NFR, they also prepare for wellness.
Dr. Tandy Freeman, Medical Director for the team starts about two weeks before the NFR when he begins a regime of using nasal sprays. Trying to get plenty of rest is nearly impossible for this man who goes nonstop from early in the mornings to late at night. Regardless of what time he gets to bed, Dr. Freeman starts each day with a workout and that workout includes getting up a good sweat.
“I might have to get up at five in the morning, but I never miss a workout while I’m in Vegas,” he said. “It is one of the best ways to boost your immune system there is.”
They start seeing athletes each morning at ten. Along with that, there is a lot of handwashing. The team recommends soap and water and using that often. If soap and water isn’t available, hand sanitizer can help, but it doesn’t replace properly washing hands. The team also stresses the importance of keeping hands away from the face.
“Bacteria on your hands isn’t likely to make you sick,” Foster said. “It’s when those bacteria enter your system through your nasal cavities or your eyes that they can wreak havoc.”
There are also natural ways to keep your immune system healthy and the team depends on those. Rick Foster, program director takes vitamins C & D regularly as well as black elderberry juice. If he starts feeling under the weather, he adds some zinc.
Getting plenty of the right fluids is also a big challenge for everyone here. If a contestant is suffering from dehydration, the team can administer IV fluids in extreme cases, but again it’s much easier to prevent dehydration than it is to correct it. They stress drinking plenty of water and if that isn’t enough use a product that is loaded with electrolytes. There are powdered products to add to bottled water and premixed products that they recommend diluting with water to be more effective.
Mike Rich, program director confirmed that information and added more of his own. “Be aware of the people around you and the air that you are breathing. Stay away from cigarette smoke and if you are here with family, and you are in a hotel room with one of them sick, have them wear a mask. It’s not that important when there is plenty of air to breath, so they just need to wear it in the room.”
Two years ago, Tim O’Connell was one of those contestants that got hit by the flu bug hard while he was trying to win his second bareback riding world championship. He went right to the emergency room where they pumped him full of fluids up to the time that he had to get to the arena.
“I had the weakest horse in the pen that night,” he said. “I’ve never been so excited to have a weak horse in my life and I almost placed. That was God taking care of me right there.”
Now Tim and his family, wife Sami and son Hazen, work even harder at preventing illness. They keep humidifiers going in their rooms, take a lot of vitamin C and drink a lot of water.
With contestants signing hundreds of autographs, shaking thousands of hands and being available to their fans, they are exposed to a lot of different bacteria. Working to stay fit and being competitive has gotten them here. The demands outside of the arena can certainly take their toll and if that includes an illness, the Justin Sportsmedicine Team is ready to help. Along with their athletic trainers, trauma and orthopedic doctors, the staff at the NFR includes emergency specialists and internists. They know that rodeo athletes are used to playing with pain and they all deal with those issues on a regular basis.
Planning for the unexpected and taking precautions keeps the team healthy so they can take care of the athletes. Their knowledge and advice should be taken to heart by everyone at this year’s NFR.