“You’ll never hear me cry about a bad steer again,” said Reigning World Champion Header Erich Rogers, while hooking on to a broken-down car in the sweltering sun of the Arizona desert.
Rogers’s newfound perspective is a direct result of bouncing back from the ultimate rodeo roller-coaster ride. His highest high was strapping on his first gold buckle last December. Then came the devastating blow of a badly blown-out knee—while bulldogging, of all things.
Rogers was leading the Cinch Timed Event Championship at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma, when a freak accident hit during the 14th run of what was supposed to be 25 total and took him out.
“I didn’t do a very good job of riding my horse,” Rogers said. “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 (Berry, who was hazing for him) 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.”
It was an ugly injury, and on March 30—after some of the severe swelling subsided—Dr. Gary Waslewski, who’s the orthopedic surgeon for the Arizona Cardinals NFL football team and Phoenix Coyotes NHL hockey team, repaired the torn ACL using Rogers’s patellar tendon from the same leg. While he was at it, he also cleaned up the MCL and meniscus. Dr. Waslewski strongly recommended that Rogers take six to eight months off from roping to recover.
Dr. Waslewski is a spectacularly skilled surgeon and all, but he can’t be expected to savvy the significance of the “Wildest, Richest Rodeo in the West” or “The Most Anticipated Monday of the Year” to our team roping world. This year’s Reno Rodeo is right around the corner, and will run June 14-23. Then there’s the June 18 Bob Feist Invitational Team Roping Classic, where defending champs Luke Brown and Jake Long dragged down $60 grand a man last June. Rogers received a firsthand lesson in the life-changing money available on BFI Monday when he bagged the big bucks with Petska in 2015.
“My last check-up was May 16, and Dr. Waslewski told me the knee’s looking good and to keep doing what I’m doing,” said Rogers, who’ll be 32 on August 14, has roped at the last seven straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeos, and won the world heading for Cory Petska. “He told me he didn’t want me to get a brace quite yet, set my next check-up for the end of July, and said that’s when he’ll fit me for a brace.”
Rogers has kept up the good work, stuck with his physical therapy, and put in plenty of gym time, which includes stretching, resistance-band exercises, leg presses, time on a stationary bike, elliptical machine, and balance-board to help him “learn to trust it again.”
Rogers jumped the doctor’s-orders gun, but did get a good brace before getting back in the saddle again. He ran his first practice steers on June 1 at the Desert Rose Equine facility in Casa Grande, Arizona, not far from Rogers’s home in Round Rock. Rogers ran 15 steers that first day with recent high school grad Trevor Nowlin. Desert Rose Equine has been swimming Rogers’s head horses to get them legged back up and ready to return to battle while he’s been rehabbing.
“I dang sure could feel my knee when I ran those first few steers, and really noticed it when I stood up to rope and put some pressure on it,” Rogers said. “But the more riding I did, the more it loosened up. The mental side is a big part of it. I think the adrenaline kicked in, and helped me forget about the injury and just go rope.
“I rode three different horses, and roped five steers on each horse. I got a Neoprene DonJoy sports brace for support. It swelled up a little and got a little sore afterwards, but not too bad. More than anything, I was body sore those first few days just from riding so much after taking three months off.”
Rogers ran his first rodeo steer June 7 in Clovis, N.M., with Ty Romo, and was headed to Cortez, N.M., and Monticello, Utah, from there. Starting at the Reno Rodeo, and at the BFI and beyond, Rogers will be roping this summer with Florida’s Clint Summers, who’s been circuit rodeoing in Texas while waiting to debut their new partnership.
“Clint’s a young kid (he’ll be 27 on August 24) who wants to get to the NFR and be a world champion,” Rogers said. “Everybody wants to be that person, but he has a lot of drive to try and be one of the best. He’s a good-hearted kid who wants to be there, and I’m excited to have him heeling behind me.”
Summers finished 19in the world on the heeling side in 2017, and roped with the likes of Hayes Smith, Tyler Wade, and Trevor Brazile last year.
“He’s a good kid, and he’s funny,” Rogers said. “But he will not get on an airplane. He’s been on planes before, and there was an incident. There will be no flying for us over the Fourth of July or in the foreseeable future.”
While recuperating and rehabbing, Rogers also has been holding down a job as a tow-truck driver for his buddy Shane Wilcox’s Elite Towing. Working six days a week, and being on call on weekends will give a guy a whole lot of appreciation for the line of work that he actually loves.
“I’ve missed roping a lot,” Rogers said. “I’ve learned not to take this roping gig for granted. They always say you need to have something else going in case something like this happens. It’s true.
When you rope for a living, you’re never guaranteed a check. But you have a chance. When you’re hurt, you don’t have a chance. And that’s hard.
“Using my team roping ability to make a living is a privilege. I know that now, and I’m going to make the most of it. I have a whole different outlook on things, and I’m excited to get back to work.”