The signature Dodge truck pulling a 40-foot trailer that reads "Justin Sports Medicine Program" will be bound for Payson again this August to care for professional rodeo athletes.
The Justin team, sponsored by the Justin Boot Company since 1981, is the official sports medicine provider to the Professional Rodeo Cowboy's Association.
The team of physical therapists and athletic trainers provides services to the athletes at more than 125 rodeos a year.
Mike Rich --irector of operations --s a certified and licensed athletic trainer who has been with the Justin Sports Medicine since 1990.
Having been raised on a ranch in southwest Kansas, Rich is familiar and understanding of the rodeo lifestyle.
"When a rodeo athlete would go see a doctor in the general medical field, the first thing they'd say is ‘You're crazy!' and tell them not to get back on their animal and that they need rest," Rich said. "In the real world these guys live in, if they don't get back on, they don't make any money. That's why they kind of shunned the medical profession in the early days."
The Justin team is sympathetic to the life of the rodeo athlete, Rich said. Trainers have built up a rapport with them after treating many of them for the past 10 years.
"Over the years, they have grown to trust us and we have established credibility among the rodeo athletes," Rich said.
The men and women who participate in the pro rodeo circuit are athletes, and according to Rich, are in better condition than ever.
"Its about education and taking better care of their body," Rich said. "They don't stay out all night drinking anymore. In the old days, their idea of a pain killer was whiskey. Except for the occasional weekend warrior who likes the adrenaline rush, most of these guys are in great shape -- especially your bull riders."
Rich says that many of the athletes have come up through the ranks and the repetitive stress on the bones strengthens them.
"They usually have some bony changes from the repetitive trauma," Rich said. "If you X-ray a bareback rider's riding arm versus his free arm, the bones are thicker and stronger on the riding arm. The human body is incredible the way it adapts and strengthens."
Although Rich has seen two rodeo athletes killed in his 10 years of treating them, he said that statistically, more athletes are killed in high school football than in rodeos.
"Professional rodeo is not as bad as you might think," Rich said. "I lose more professional rodeo contestants to car wrecks than I do in the arena because these guys have to travel so much. The odds stack up against them quicker on the freeway than the rodeo arena."
The Justin team requires an on-site ambulance for emergencies and will use their emergency medical technician training if need be.
Rich teaches the athletes about stretching and flexibility as well as strengthening muscles that will stabilize the body and reduce injury.
"I educate them on how to condition themselves for a competition, and how to take care of themselves afterward," Rich said. "Every one of these people want to get better in the quickest possible time, whereas the general population has time -- these guys, even if they're not rodeoing, most of them are ranching or farming."
Rich has worked with many professional athletes in his career and his favorite people to work with are rodeo athletes. Rich said he also sees the camaraderie that exists between rodeo athletes that he hasn't seen in other athletes.
"I've seen airports lose a guy's entire rigging bag and they show up to rodeo with no bull rope, no chaps, no spurs, no protective vest -- and in five minutes people have loaned him everything he needs to get on his animal and ride," Rich said. "They will talk to each other about their experience with an animal and share information. They help each other make the best ride they can. They are really down-to-earth, good people."
Rich and his colleague, Rick Foster, have been coming to the Payson rodeo for a decade.
"The thing I love about your rodeo is that it's still a traditional rodeo," Rich said. "It's a smaller rodeo but it has some great caliber animals and a lot of great rodeo athletes. It's a family-oriented rodeo in a smaller arena -- it's a rare rodeo anymore. Payson's a real friendly town. That's the feeling you get when you go there."
Justin Sports Medicine Rodeo injury stats
RODEO EVENTS DURING WHICH ATHLETES WERE INJURED
Bull riding is the event that has accounted for the most injured since 1981. There have only been two years when bull riding accounted for less than 50 percent of total injuries for all rodeo events.
Bareback riding accounts for 23.26 percent of injuries.
Saddle bronc riding has consistently been third on the injury list, but has declined from 18.7 percent in
1981-85 to 13.8 percent during the current period.
ANATOMICAL LOCATION OF INJURIES BY RODEO EVENT
The knee was most often injured in calf roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding and among bullfighters/clowns.
Bull riders are more likely to suffer injuries to their heads and faces. Thigh and groin injuries also are high among bull riders.
Bareback bronc riders injured their shoulders, hands and elbows.
MAJOR INJURIES IN RODEO
According to statistics, the incidence of concussion increased dramatically to 55.9 percent of all major injuries during the 1996-2000 rodeo season, and accounted for 21.1 percent of all major injuries.
Shoulder fractures and dislocations are the second most frequent major injury at 9.27 percent.
Chest and rib injuries were the third most common major injury at 6.48 percent.
Source: Justin Sports Medicine