Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund lends cowboys a hand up

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For a rodeo cowboy, getting hurt is just another part of the game.

Dealing with concussions, fractured ribs and torn knee ligaments is commonplace and more than a few rodeo cowboys compete with injuries that would keep athletes in other sports on the bench.

"It's not a question of if you will get hurt, but when you will get hurt," said Pat McAteer, treasurer of the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund.

Unlike other sports, when rodeo cowboys suffer catastrophic injuries they don't get paid.

Most cowboys are left with no support system to help them while they recover, and no teammates or front office to come to the rescue when the financial burden starts to get heavy.

"It's not just about the cowboy who gets injured," McAteer said. "They have families, wives and children that are counting on them for support."

To help cowboys deal with severe injuries that limit their ability to compete, Justin Boots, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, and the Women's Professional Rodeo Association teamed up to create the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund in 1989.

Don Andrews, vice president of the fund, said it is not a blanket insurance policy.

"It's a hand up, not a hand out" Andrews said. "Most cowboys are proud, but they run into situations that they just can't overcome on their own. They need some help."

The fund helps cowboys for whom rodeo is a livelihood.

"The fund focuses on those individuals who make professional rodeo their career and who dedicate their life to it," McAteer said.

Andrews said getting cowboys to take the help isn't always easy in a sport where the athletes are known for toughness.

Andrews, who worked for years in professional hockey as an athletic trainer, said severity and frequency of injuries in rodeo is higher than most other sports -- including hockey. He said most of the injuries that are reported in rodeo are what he would call major injuries.

Bull riders share the bulk of rodeo's injuries accounting for 48 percent. Bareback riders (23 percent) and saddle bronc (15 percent) also contribute to the total. While injuries were less common in steer wrestling, tie down roping and calf roping they still happen.

Andrews said not every cowboy applies and it's not unusual for the fund to get checks returned by cowboys who said they've already gotten back on their feet.

Last year the fund awarded support to more than 40 cowboys totaling in the neighborhood of $300,000. Since it started, the Cowboy Crisis Fund has helped more than 300 individuals and their families offering more than $3 million in assistance.

The Cowboy Crisis Fund dedicates 100 percent of all contributions received for disbursement to eligible applicants. It's possible because the Justin Boot Company and the PRCA underwrite all administrative costs associated with managing the fund, leaving the contributions for their intended purpose.

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