Johnson sidelined until January
Chet Johnson never imagined he would be spending crunch time of the ProRodeo season fishing and watching football. The Gillette, WY, cowboy thought he would be on the road with world champions Jeff Willert and Chad Ferley attempting to qualify for his fourth Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
Instead, he is home recovering from three skull fractures on the right side of his head, bleeding and swelling on the left side of the brain and a fractured right eardrum after being kicked in the back of the head by a horse. The reigning Canadian saddle bronc riding world champion was kicked as he crawled away to get clear of the horse at the Days of ’47 Rodeo July 20 near Salt Lake City.
Despite having to make the decision to now sit out of competition from mid-July to January, the 29-year-old considers himself lucky because things could have turned out much worse. He had hoped to return to competition in a month or two. However, after speaking with Justin Sportsmedicine’s Dr. Pepper Murray and other doctors, he decided to follow their advice.
“They want me to wait until the first of the year, at least,” Johnson said. “If I were to get knocked in the head again, it could be even worse than the first time it happened. I need to get back to normal, so I could take a shot a little better.”
Johnson remembers only “bits and pieces” of the night he was injured. He lay motionless on the dirt, face down, for several minutes before he was allowed to come to his feet and walk out of the arena, basically under his own power, but accompanied by officials on each side of him.
“I remember crawling, and then I remember a split-second when I was going out of the arena,” Johnson said. “I remember walking by the announcer’s stand, for some reason, and then it goes to black.”
Johnson was taken to the hospital, where doctors were able to stop the bleeding in his brain and reduce swelling.
“My family and I have talked about how amazing it was that I was in Salt Lake, just miles from some of the best medical facilities in the country,” Johnson said.
He was in intensive care for two days and three nights, followed by two more days in a hospital room. He never considered giving up rodeo as a way to make a living, despite the severity of his injury. The out going guy with a constant smile loves everything about ProRodeo and being a cowboy.
“When I talk to Justin Sportsmedicine, they understand how we want to come back, but when I talked to doctors who don’t know about rodeo and asked them about coming back, they looked at me and said, ‘What?'” Johnson recalled. “Giving it up would be pretty devastating, and I know people have had to, but luckily I won’t have to.”
Johnson stayed with his parents in Gillette for a couple of weeks after the accident and has since returned to his home in Sheridan. The headaches he initially had have lessoned and become less frequent. He struggled with his balance, but that also has improved. His coordination and speech are normal.
Johnson received an outpouring of support from all over the country and it has helped during his recovery. “I just thank everybody for me praying for me,” Johnson said. The kindness he has received has helped him through some tough days.
“The only thing that I have a little trouble with is concentrating and focusing, but I have noticed that has really improved in the last week or so,” Johnson said.
“The doctors, every step of the way, have been amazed at how fast I have come back. My last checkup, my doctor was really impressed.”
Johnson is doing yardwork and using his computer, along with fishing and watching sports.
“Chad and Jeff call me to make travel plans for them,” he said. “I’m a cheap travel agent.”
Johnson plans to help coach young saddle bronc riders at Sheridan (WY) College, along with spending the fall and winter getting in shape for his return in January.
He’ll also cheer on his travel partners as they compete in ProRodeo’s postseason.
“I’ll ask them, ‘Where are you? What are you doing?’ he said, “That’s pretty tough, but it’s OK. It’s what we love to do.”
A winner of the Canadian National Finals Rodeo in 2009 and the Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo in 2004, Johnson qualified for the Wrangler NFR in 2005, 2007 and 2008. He was 34th in the PRCA World Standings at the time of his injury.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News