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Justin Sportsmedicine Team prevents and deals with injuries from the arena

A Justin Sportsmedicine team member works with a rodeo contestant. All services provided by the Justin Sportsmedicine team are free to rodeo contestants and personnel. Photo courtesy Jennifer Wyly.

What does a ton and a half of ice and 200 miles of athletic tape have in common? They’re both items used to make rodeo cowboys and cowgirls feel better.

Pro rodeo cowboys and cowgirls have someone in their corner when it comes to injuries on the job.

Rodeo is one of the most dangerous sports in the world, and with no guaranteed contracts, rodeo cowboys and cowgirls are always an injury away from being unable to compete and losing their rodeo income.

The Justin Sportsmedicine Team helps stop the gap.

Rodeo Rapid City is fortunate enough to have had the Justin Sportsmedicine Team on site the last forty years.

Rick Foster, director for the Team, and a crew of volunteers are at each performance of Rodeo Rapid City, two hours before the rodeo starts, during slack, and staying as late as they need to after the rodeo.

They are there to help rodeo athletes stretch out, work on current injuries, and, in the case of an injury during competition, to help the athlete get treatment.

Cowboys and cowgirls visit the team, free of charge, for preventative care and for injuries as well.

Nate Jestes, one of the bullfighters at Rodeo Rapid City, knows personally what good the Justin Sportsmedicine Team does.

The Douglas, Wyo., cowboy was working the first performance of the 2018 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo on Dec. 6 when a bull took him. The bull hit him in his left hip, picked him up and set him down. When he landed, his right knee, which was in a brace, was completely straight. “The bull kept charging through me,” Jestes said, “and I had 1,500 pounds right through me.” The knee brace didn’t let his knee hyper-extend “so the only thing that gave was my hamstring,” he said.

He tore two of his three hamstring muscles. One tear was in the middle of the muscle, which was an easier fix than the second tear, which was “where it got complicated and rare,” Jestes said. Normally, when a hamstring pulls off the pelvis, it pulls the tendon off the bone. For Jestes, the tendon stayed on the bone but it degloved the muscle from the tendon.

When the injury happened, Jestes could walk on the leg because his quads were supporting his body weight and his toes pushed the leg forward in small steps. But he couldn’t run, making him unable to continue working the Wrangler NFR.

Dr. Tandy Freeman, medical director for the Justin Sportsmedicine Team and an orthopedic surgeon, was on hand in Las Vegas during the WNFR, and explained it to Jestes this way. His brain was sending the signal to the hamstring to contract. But because the hamstring wasn’t attached, the signal wasn’t received and the brain would send the signal to shut down the entire leg. “It felt like somebody hit my leg with a hotshot,” Jestes said. “My leg would just collapse.”

An MRI had been done, but because of swelling and bruising, Dr. Freeman wanted a more clear one, for a better diagnosis of the problem.

So Jestes stayed in Las Vegas, even though he was no longer able to work the WNFR, and visited the Justin Sportsmedicine training room twice a day for two treatments each visit. The athletic trainers worked to flush out the blood and decrease the swelling so that when he went back for a second MRI, it would be a better image.

After the second MRI, Jestes and his wife Bridget got news they didn’t want to hear. The hamstring was torn off the pelvis, and Dr. Freeman didn’t know how to fix it.

But Freeman’s help didn’t end there. He worked to find a surgeon who had experience in the rare surgery that Jestes needed.

It was Dr. Thomas Youm at New York City Langone Orthopedic Hospital who had done similar surgeries.

It involved taking from a cadaver an Achilles heel with a chunk of bone attached, drilling a hole in his pelvis, shaving the bone to fit the hole, and hammering and screwing the bone to fit. Then the hamstring was pulled back into its proper spot, the cadaver tendon was put on the muscle, and it was sutured. Throughout the healing process, Jestes’ body broke down the cadaver tissue and rebuilt it into his own tissue.

The surgery, which was outpatient, was done on January 31, 2019. After six weeks of no tension on the cadaver tendon, Jestes did rigorous rehab, and by July 31, he was back to working his first rodeo after the injury. .

It was a freak accident. “I’ve been hit like that one hundred times, and just this one time, the bull landed weird and it popped.”

The Justin Sportsmedicine Team helps with extreme injuries, but just as often helps with the bumps that come with rodeo. “If we’re doing our job right (as bullfighters), we’re always banged up and bruised,” Jestes said. “Those guys are there to help us feel a little better. They’re taping our ankles, to help prevent ankle injury, and they’ll create workouts for us, for what we can do to prevent injury. And if we do get hurt, they’ll come up with a rehab workout to speed up the healing process.”

The Justin Sportsmedicine Team is the official medical provider for the PRCA. The program is sponsored by the Justin Boot Co., with all services free to rodeo athletes and contract personnel.

The program is staffed by twelve program managers and local volunteers: athletic trainers, physical therapists, orthopedic surgeons and emergency medical doctors.

Justin Sportsmedicine has three mobile trailers that are used at about 125 pro rodeos a year, including Rodeo Rapid City.

If the rodeo has the space, the Justin team uses a training room instead of the trailer. “We set up shop wherever we are,” said Jenny Wyly, one of the program managers and a certified athletic trainer and physical therapist.

The team uses a centralized medical record keeping system, charting everyone who receives treatment. That way, if a cowboy is hurt in Denver or Ft. Worth, when he comes to Rapid City, sports medicine officials can look up what the injury is and how he was treated, making their treatment “as congruent as possible,” Wyly said.

The team is also familiar with the sport of rodeo.

While many athletic trainers understand mainstream sports, rodeo is different and its contestants are different, too.

“The uniqueness of the sport is not only from the type and personality of the contestants, but the intensity and danger of the sport,” Wyly said. “The average sports medicine provider might look at a cowboy getting bucked off and say, ‘no more competition.’” That doesn’t work in rodeo, where there are no guaranteed contracts for sitting on the bench. Justin Sportsmedicine people understand if cowboys “don’t get on, they don’t get paid,” Wyly said.

“We’re offering top care, and from people who understand rodeo and its demands and its vocabulary and language.”

The Sutton family, producers of Rodeo Rapid City, which runs Feb. 1 and 6-8 with a Xtreme Broncs Match on Feb.5, appreciates the Justin Sportsmedicine Team.

“Justin Sportsmedicine is invaluable to contestants, the contractors, everybody who is working the rodeo,” said Kim Sutton.

The team has medical field contacts across the nation, which is helpful to everyone, and which the Sutton family has been beneficiaries of.

When Steve Sutton, Kim’s husband, was in his forties and needed a knee replaced, no local doctor would do it, insisting that he had to wait till he was in his sixties.

Dr. J. Pat Evans, co-founder of Justin Sportsmedicine, helped Steve find a doctor in Omaha who was doing knee replacements on younger people, and Steve had the surgery done.

The Justin Boots Co. sponsors the Sportsmedicine program, “which is huge kudos to them,” Kim said. “We are so grateful to Justin for their commitment to our rodeo families.”

Bullfighter Jestes is back to nearly one-hundred percent, and Dr. Youm told him he would have just as good, if not a stronger connection between the muscle and pelvis.

The Justin Sportsmedicine Team is “our lifeline,” Jestes said. “They are very important in what they do, not just because of their knowledge of the body, but their knowledge of the sport of rodeo. They understand the movements we make with our body.

“Another thing, our pain tolerance is high. They understand what we can tolerate, and that if we don’t work, we don’t get paid. Any other doctor or sports medicine person with no rodeo knowledge would say (after an injury) sit out for two weeks. We don’t have two weeks to sit out.”

Jestes said the team does everything it can to keep rodeo people working and competing. After an injury, “they can tell us, here’s how you can get through tonight’s performance, and here’s your risk if you work tonight. They can give us the evaluation in our best interest.”

Rodeo Rapid City takes place at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center Feb. 1 at 1:30 and 7:30 pm Mountain Time; Feb. 6-7 at 7:30 pm, and Feb. 8 at 1:30 and 7:30 pm. A PRCA Xtreme Broncs Match is on Feb. 5 at 7:30 pm.

For more information on Rodeo Rapid City, visit http://www.blackhillsstockshow.com



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