Erich Rogers was riding high and on top of the team roping world when he suffered a serious knee injury in the steer wrestling March 3 at the Cinch Timed Event Championship. The reigning world champion header also was the leader of the Timed Event pack at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma, when he rode in to run his 14 of 25 head at rodeo’s ultimate ironman marathon, where the best all-around timed-event cowboys in the world do battle in five rounds of heading, heeling, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, and steer roping.
Rogers was last out in the third round of the steer wrestling, and had a strong steer that had stepped left with Russell Cardoza in the first round, and that Shay Carroll missed in round two.
“I didn’t do a very good job of riding my horse,” admitted Rogers, the five-event overall winner of the second round, who rode ProRodeo Hall of Fame Steer Wrestler Ote Berry’s bulldogging horse and had Berry over on the hazing side (as did Cardoza, who won the last round and placed in another; Lane Karney, who placed in a round and finished fourth in the average; and 2018 TEC Champ Jordan Ketscher).
“I didn’t ride him over where we needed to be, the steer cut in front of me, and I hipped him. We were coming back up that left wall, I had good position, Ote told me to go ahead, and I got a good catch on the steer. I was wanting to be really aggressive once I got my hands on him, but as I started to slide him my right foot stuck in that deep dirt over by that wall, I hyperextended my knee, and buckled it to the inside. That’s when the pop came. And it dropped me. I let go of the steer. I knew I was done.”
And yet he refused to say die. The Rodeo Sports Medicine Team helped Rogers out of the arena, and took him to the sportsmed room at the back end of the arena.
“It was just a freak thing that happened, and it hurt bad,” said Rogers, who was competing at his fifth Timed Event. “It was like that nerve pain when you smash your thumb. The doctor told me right then and there that I’d torn it up. He said, ‘You got your MCL, and there’s no telling for sure about the ACL and the meniscus.’
“It hurt, but I could move around on it a little. So they taped it up, and put a brace on top of the tape. I went ahead and roped my steer roping steer (the last event of each round), and as soon as I stepped off that horse it felt like my knee was going left and right and didn’t know what to do. I hopped to the steer, that horse dragged him to me, I got him tied, then I gimped back to my horse.”
It was painful for even the people in the stands to watch. And still, Rogers refused to say uncle.
“I knew I was done as far as going on in every event,” said Rogers, 31, who’s headed at the last six straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeos. “It was obvious I could not do it.”
An MRI at the hospital in nearby Edmond confirmed that doctor’s worst suspicions. Rogers had a torn MCL, ACL, and meniscus. “The lady there at the hospital looked at the results and said, ‘I don’t even know how you’re walking,’” Rogers said.
Round three was Saturday afternoon. After his trip to the hospital—and getting the worst possible knee news—Rogers sucked it up, braced up, and saddled up for the fourth round that night.
“I thought I would team rope to finish out the last couple rounds,” said Rogers, who had 2015 World Champion Header Aaron Tsinigine there helping him in the heading and heeling. “I couldn’t stand up in my stirrups in the heading, I missed the steer, and had to rebuild. When I roped him and dallied up, that rope from the horn to my knee hit my knee really hard when it came tight.
“I tried heeling, too. Tsinigine turned me a fast one, I about fell off when I turned the corner, caught a leg, dallied, and I was really done. That’s when I got out of there. There was no possible way I could finish. It was heartbreaking. We were at one of the biggest events of the year that showcases your talent and ability to be an all-around hand in five different events. The Timed Event is one of the best events going down the road. It’s a true test, and it’s hard. When you’re at the top of the leaderboard where you’re supposed to be halfway through the competition it means a lot. And the camaraderie with all the contestants there is the best.”
Dr. Gary Waslewski, who’s the orthopedic surgeon for the Arizona Cardinals NFL football team and Phoenix Coyotes NHL hockey team, operated on Rogers’s right knee March 30 in Scottsdale, Arizona. He repaired the torn ACL using Rogers’s patellar tendon from the same leg, and also cleaned up his MCL and meniscus.
“The doctor said everything went according to plan, and there were no surprises,” Rogers said. “The first couple days weren’t much fun, but I stayed ahead of it with the pain meds. On the third day I thought I could tolerate it, so I quit taking the medicine. I was hopping around on crutches and didn’t have it iced. It swelled up and was unbearable. After a couple more days, it got bearable, and it’s been better since.”
Regaining range of motion is key to Rogers’s recovery.
“They wanted me to get to 90 degrees the first day, and by the second day they wanted 120 degrees of bend in it,” he said.
Rogers spends six hours a day hooked up to a Continuous Passive Motion machine, that bends and straightens his knee. He’s also become close personal friends with an ice machine, that helps minimize the inflammation.
Dr. Waslewski strongly suggests Rogers take six to eight months off to heal up. Rogers doesn’t plan to be quite that patient. They’ll meet again April 10 at Rogers’s next check-up for a revised set of marching orders. Meanwhile, he’s working hard in physical therapy three days a week.
Rogers, who keeps a set of golf clubs in his horse trailer year-round, has also been watching The Masters to pass the time.
“We sneak off and play a round when we get the chance,” he said. “(Kaleb) Driggers, (Dustin) Bird, Cesar (de la Cruz), Clayton Hass, Blaine Vick, and my new partner are all pretty good golf ball strikers who are pretty handy on the golf course.”
He won the world in 2017 with Cory Petska, who’s now roping with Colby Lovell. Rogers’s new partner is Florida native Clint Summers, who won the 2014 George Strait Team Roping Classic with Matt Sherwood. Rogers and Summers have yet to get to their first rodeo due to this unexpected injury time-out.
“It’s hard that this happened and I didn’t get to go to rodeos like Houston, Austin, Kissimmee, Guymon and Logandale, but there are a lot of highs and lows in this line of work,” Rogers said. “Winning streaks and dry spells are all part of rodeoing for a living.
“The way I’m looking at it, getting hurt could be a blessing in disguise. This break gave me time to come home, recuperate, and re-evaluate rodeo and life after rodeo. It’s time to start thinking about other ways of earning income. Taking a break is making me hungrier. When something like this happens, and you don’t have any other income, it kind of hurts the pocket a little bit.”
Rogers hopes to return in time to rope with Summers at a few Turquoise Circuit rodeos before rolling into Reno in June. Rogers won about $12,000 in the early going of the season, and says he’s not too worried about the time off.
“I’ve had years when I had basically nothing won heading into Reno, and it turned out fine,” he said. “Reno’s always a fresh start for a lot of guys, and my horses will be ready to fire. There’s a lot of money to be won out there in the summertime.
“As far as coming back early goes, if my body can handle it physically, I can handle it mentally. As cowboys, we deal with challenges all the time. Chad Masters and (NFR tie-down roper) Timber Moore both had this same surgery, and Chad came back in 10 weeks, and Timber was roping calves again three months after surgery. If those guys can do it, so can I.”
Meanwhile, Rogers has a day job driving a tow truck for Elite Towing in Casa Grande, Arizona, where he works alongside close friend Shane Wilcox.
“I’m going to work a day job for a couple months,” Rogers said. “Then I’ll be back. I’m excited to rope with a young, hungry wolf.”