I witnessed a handshake at the Lazy E Arena the other day that’s still sticking with me. It happened at Timed Event Championship’s end—after a lot of the 2019 contestants had already cleared out of the building—and it was between the last two TEC titlists, 2018 winner Jordan Ketscher and newly crowned 2019 champ Justin Thigpen.

They’d met the month before at the rodeo in San Antonio, but Jordan being from California and Justin from Georgia, their paths hadn’t crossed beyond those two cowboy contests. Now there they were—Jordan on crutches after hurting his right knee in Round 3 at the TEC, and Justin gathering up his bounty, which starts with the life-changing $100,000 TEC champ’s check.

[Read More: Ketscher Leads Cinch Timed Event Championship Going Into Final Round]

Talk about extreme emotional states. And yet you could read right there on their faces that each understood what the other was feeling. Jordan was in obvious pain, yet clearly happy for Justin’s elation, which was easy for him to relate to such a short time after having been there himself. Justin was on Cloud 9 about what he’d just done, and was at the same time sincerely sympathetic about Jordan’s discomfort and disappointment.

2019 Timed Event Champ Justin Thigpen and son Trent with 2018 TEC titles Jordan Ketscher. 

2019 Timed Event Champ Justin Thigpen and son Trent with 2018 TEC titles Jordan Ketscher. 

Jordan’s initial injury happened without incident during his Round 3 steer wrestling run.

“I caught the steer like the others and nothing crazy happened,” said Jordan, 29, who lives and works on the family ranch in Squaw Valley. “When my feet hit the ground, I heard a pop. My foot just planted the wrong way, and it buckled my knee in a little bit. It didn’t hurt at that moment. It took me awhile to get that steer thrown down, then when I got up to walk away it didn’t feel very good.”

He limped down to the sports medicine room at the back end of the arena, and got taped up before his steer roping run. We’ll never know exactly the extent of his injury before that next run—or as some speculated that the steer roping run sort of finished what was started in the steer wrestling—but he did happen to hit the side of his knee against his steer roping horse’s hind leg on his way to tie that steer.

Back to sports med he went after that third steer roping run, which ended Round 3.

“They definitely thought it was my ACL that was torn at that point,” Jordan said. “They said it would not be a good idea to continue.”

So after winning the opening round, and hanging tough toward the top of the leaderboard through the first three rounds, he had to sit out the last two. Jordan’s fiancée, Mary Glenn, flew out Monday to finish nursing school. Jordan and his mom, Lee Ann, then made the long drive home, where an MRI revealed the extent of the damage.

[Read More: Justin Thigpen: 2019 Cinch Timed Event Champion]

“I have a full ACL tear, about an 80 percent MCL tear, and a possible small tear in the meniscus,” Jordan said. “They’ll know better when they get in there, but it got most of it. They say the MCL will heal on its own, but I’m scheduled for surgery on April 26 in Fresno.”

Dr. Anthony Yu is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in sports medicine, so he’s in good hands. Meanwhile, the man we call Maverick will work hard in physical therapy to build his muscles up so he goes into surgery strong.

“The doctor said to plan on six months (away from tie-down roping, for sure),” said Jordan, whose career highlights on top of that 2018 TEC title include all-around crowns at the 2017 California Rodeo in Salinas and 2018 Reno Rodeo, and last year’s tie-down roping win at his hometown Clovis Rodeo. “He said it’ll take nine to 12 months for it to be fully healed, but no calf roping for six months. I may be able to team rope sooner, but I’ll follow doctor’s orders, because I need an ACL for what I do.”

Armed with a great attitude, he’s ready to tackle the road to recovery.

“I’m hoping to be back at some circuit rodeos in October, to test it out before next year’s winter rodeos,” said Jordan, who’ll say “I do” when he marries Miss Mary on October 12. “Growing up ranching and rodeoing, you feel like you need to always be working hard to keep improving. So a setback is disappointing, for sure. But we’ll make the best of it and I’ll start taking better care of myself physically. We take our health for granted when we’re young. But there’s no sense getting down about it. It’s time to get my whole body in better shape, and get ready for 2020.”

Thigpen can relate. He tore the ACL in his right knee 10 or 12 years ago. The only difference is he never had it surgically repaired.

[Listen: The Short Score with Justin Thigpen and KC Jones]

“I wear a knee brace all the time when I rope calves and bulldog—even when I practice,” said the reigning International Professional Rodeo Association all-around, tie-down roping and steer wrestling champ, who June 1 will be the first-ever two-event cowboy at the World Champions Rodeo Alliance’s $1 million Titletown Stampede in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “I hurt my knee roping calves. We were roping some big, old, roped-out calves, I went to flank one, he hooked his back leg on mine and came down on me. I heard a loud pop. I know what it’s like to be sidelined by an injury. The doctors said my knee was basically held together by a piece of dental floss.”

Mom Lee Ann and fiancée Mary Glenn are Jordan's biggest cheerleaders. 

Mom Lee Ann and fiancée Mary Glenn are Jordan's biggest cheerleaders. 

Thigpen had a crash course in steer roping before his first Timed Event, and a few people wondered if maybe that was why he sometimes stayed in the saddle a little longer than most. Not.

“When it looked like I was hung up in the saddle a little bit, it was my rope hanging up on that knee brace,” he said. “It didn’t have me welded to the saddle, but there was definitely a little extra hook there, which caused a little hang time.

“As for Jordan, I feel bad for him. We all do. He’s very talented, and he’s a super nice guy. He’ll come back even stronger, because he’ll be hungry for it again. But I feel for him. Good cowboys respect other good cowboys, and nobody wants to see anyone get hurt.”

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