Blaine Linaweaver is a four-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo header, and a renowned reacher. In 2001, at the San Angelo (Texas) Rodeo, Kansas native Linaweaver and Missouri native Jory Levy set the 3.5-second world team roping record. On July 2 this year, Linaweaver got his hand caught in the dally heading a steer for Brandon Bates at the Oakley (Utah) Independence Day Rodeo, and cut off about 95 percent of his right index finger. It cut straight through the bone, and all that was holding the finger onto Linaweaver’s hand was a nerve and a tendon. He’s since been sidelined while recovering from two surgeries. Linaweaver, 40, lives with his wife, Michele, in Irvine, Calif.
Kendra santos: Tell me exactly what happened on July 2.
Blaine Linaweaver: I don’t really know what happened. We had a slow steer that kind of checked off and wanted to come to me. I just did what I always do, roped him and headed out. It popped off my saddle horn and I don’t really know what happened. I didn’t fumble my slack or my dally. I just got it on the horns, got my slack and went to the saddle horn.
KS: Were you afraid to look down?
BL: No. I saw Brandon had two feet, so I faced my horse, redallied and got the flag. I think we were 6.5 and won third in the average. After we got the flag I looked down, rode straight out the gate and over to the Justin Sportsmedicine trailer.
KS: What did you see when you did look down?
BL: It had cut through my glove, and was pretty gnarly. I could see it had cut through the bone and was barely hanging on. My old buddy Rich Skelton was right there, and he walked me into the Justin Sportsmedicine trailer and filled out all the paperwork. He was with me the whole time. Brandon took care of my horse and came in a little after that.
KS:Did it feel like it happened fast, or in slow motion?
BL: It just happened at normal speed. We had a good steer and made a good run. If things had gone better—if I hadn’t gotten my finger in the dally—we’d have won the second round and the average. The run was setting up just right before it popped off the saddle horn for reasons I guess I’ll never know.
KS: Did it hurt, or was it like what they say about shark bites and actually pretty painless?
BL: It didn’t hurt right when it happened. When it hurt is when they poured Betadine on it and put a splint on it. That hurt.
KS: Tell me about the two surgeries you’ve had.
BL: The first surgery was the next morning, July 3, at University Hospital in Salt Lake City. They reattached my finger after a couple hand doctors came in to see me in the middle of the night. I could actually move the tip of my finger, because the nerve and the tendon were still attached on the inside. So that was promising. The pins went from the knuckle toward the front of my finger. They did get it reattached, but my finger was pretty crooked and turned to the inside, so it didn’t take long to realize I needed a second surgery.
KS: Was the second surgery a success?
BL: The second surgery was done by a renowned hand specialist close to home in California on July 16. He went back in there, cleaned out the infection, straightened it out and repinned it. It’s been a gnarly process, but he did a good job. Now it’s a matter of therapy to see how much mobility I’m going to get back.
KS: What’s it looking like as far as returning to roping?
BL: I don’t know yet, to be honest. I’ll be able to rope, but I don’t know how much this is going to affect me. It depends how much mobility I get back in this finger. My doctor did say if I can’t move it very well he can go back in and cut it off at the knuckle.
KS: Ouch. Are you in any sort of hand rehab therapy now?
BL: I started therapy the third week in August. They just have me moving it to try and break up some of the scar tissue.
KS: In hindsight, was there anything you or your horse could have done differently that day, or do you just see it as one of those things?
BL: Honestly, I’ve thought about it since it happened, and think it’s just one of those things. I wouldn’t change anything I did. I had the steer I wanted and we made a good run. I did what I wanted to do. It’s the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me.
KS: How motivated are you to get back to roping right now?
BL: I’m really motivated right now. I wasn’t so motivated right after it happened. You want quitting to be your decision, not something that’s decided for you. Not being able to rope is making me want it even more.
KS: What are you missing most about roping, and what have you been doing to stay occupied?
BL: I really miss the competition. I haven’t been able to do much. I’ve had to do a lot of laying around. I go watch my friends practice. That’s about it.
KS: Is this injury giving you time to think about what your next chapter might be? What do you see in your life after the rodeo trail?
BL: I was already started on that path, but this makes me want to rope again, even if it’s just going to the circuit rodeos and trying to go to the RAM (National Circuit) Finals (Rodeo), driving to the (George) Strait (Team Roping Classic) or roping at the BFI (Bob Feist Invitational Team Roping Classic). I don’t know what my next chapter’s going to be with a rope in my hand, because I don’t know how good I’m going to get. Only time will tell.
KS: Sometimes some good comes out of tough times. Have you found a silver lining to this deal?
BL: No. I understand this must have happened for a reason. But I haven’t figured out what that reason is yet. There’s got to be a silver lining in there somewhere. I just haven’t found it yet. Maybe I needed to be more motivated, or this is teaching me to appreciate roping even more. Again, time will tell.