By Neal Reid
ProRodeo contestants drive the long miles and deal with the stress of battling for every dollar in hopes of reaching the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in December.
For some, the dream never comes true, and they’re left with an empty feeling of what could have been. For others, lightning strikes, everything aligns and their ticket is punched to Las Vegas.
Steer wrestler Tyler Pearson felt that elation earlier this year when he qualified in the ninth spot for his first Wrangler NFR. On Tuesday, he felt something else – something in his right knee pop as he ran a practice steer at the Thomas & Mack Center.
An MRI the following day revealed the Louisville, Miss., bulldogger had a torn meniscus and sprained medial collateral ligament. Finally in Las Vegas after years of toiling away, Pearson was staring at a major injury hours before he was due to run his first steer in the “big show.”
“They let us run them before the rodeo, and the ground was a little deep and I tweaked my knee,” Pearson said. “They call it a bucket-handle tear, where your meniscus tears and wraps back under your knee. I can’t straighten my knee.
“It was real stressful at first. I thought I hurt it pretty good.”
The dedicated staff of the Justin SportsMedicine Team went to work on Pearson, helping augment a brace that would allow him to compete and have a shot to not only participate in the world’s richest rodeo, but challenge for paychecks.
“They’ve got some good doctors here,” said Pearson, who will have surgery after the Finals to repair the tear. “The SportsMedicine guys got me going and found out what went wrong real quick. They got me iced down, heated up and did whatever it took to get me going.
“They’ve got my knee brace locked down so I can’t straighten it, and we’re going to go at ‘em.”
Pearson was in good spirits shortly after he turfed his first steer in 5.0 seconds, finishing out of the money in Round 1. He was in good spirits and optimistic about the rest of the rodeo.
“It felt good tonight,” he said of the knee. “I actually didn’t feel it at all, and it didn’t bother me one bit. It’s the one I hurt before, so I was nervous. But tonight, I didn’t feel anything at all. It felt perfect.”
When I asked if he’d be able to make it the rest of the nine rounds, his response came quickly and honestly.
“They’re going to have to amputate my leg for me not to,” Pearson said.
“Pearson has dealt with the ordeal like a champion, impressing those closest to him, including three-time Wrangler NFR bulldogger Jake Rinehart, who is hazing for him.
“He’s had a really good attitude about it, and I knew he was going to run one just because he made it (here),” said Rinehart, who qualified for the Wrangler NFR in 2007, 2009 and 2011. “I was glad to see that brace helped and that mentally and physically (the injury) wasn’t bothering him anymore and he was ready to rock ‘n’ roll again. We’re going to back in the corner, run them as hard as we can, and hopefully it all works out.”
Rinehart knew his buddy was going to be able to give it a go after Pearson paid him a visit in his hotel room earlier this week.
“It was a little before the (first) perf, and he called me up and wanted to know where I was,” Rinehart said. “I told him my room number, and he said, ‘All right, I’m going to come see ya. He came jogging into my room, jogged to one end of the bedroom, jumped up and down and said, ‘Man, it feels great!’
“He jogged to the other end of the room, jumped up and down and said, ‘I’ve got to go. I feel good.’ And out the door he went on a run.”
His traveling partner, Stan Branco, knows Pearson has the intestinal fortitude needed to overcome the setback.
“He’s kept (a good) attitude well about the rodeo,” said Branco, who qualified for his first Wrangler NFR this year by finishing the regular season 10th in the standings. “After last night, he’s settled in, and it looks like his knee feels good.”
Pearson has the right mentality while overcoming the obstacle that’s before him.
“It bugs you, but you’ve got to deal with what you’ve got,” said Pearson, who is riding Rinehart’s horse, Eight Ball, at the Finals. “The hand’s been played, and you’ve got to deal with it. We have some good doctors here who are going to keep me going, and there’s not a chance I’m going to turn one out.
“Unless I can’t walk on it, I’m going to run them.”
Perhaps his breakout season – in which he won the Pendleton (Ore.) Round-Up and the Days of ’47 Rodeo in Salt Lake City, Utah – coupled with the experience of becoming a father for the first time have helped Pearson keep a level head while dealing with the injury. Pearson’s wife, Carissa, gave birth to a boy, Stetson, on June 13.
“It’s been awesome and has been a great year,” Pearson said. “I had a great winter, a really slow summer and a great fall. As far as the family deal, that was awesome, and I hated to leave my son. I had to leave 10 days after he was born to go rodeo, but I’d had a good winter and had a chance to make the Finals.”
The 6-2, 220-pounder is living a dream while competing at his first Wrangler NFR, and a “little” knee injury isn’t going to keep him from backing into the box and nodding his head.
“Oh, it’s been emotional,” Pearson said. “I’ve been stressed out with this little bit of injury, but it’s been emotional knowing I’m here. I teared up.
“Knowing everything I’ve ever done to work for it, and I’m here. It’s unreal to be here.”