Spencer Mitchell of Colusa, Calif., is a two-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo header. He roped at the first one in 2011 with his late best friend, Broc Cresta, and they won Round 10 in 3.6. Spencer headed for close friend Dakota Kirchenschlager at the 2012 NFR, and they won one round and split another. Spencer’s been noticeably absent lately after a run of rough luck. Here’s why.
Kendra Santos: You hurt your knee bulldogging at last spring’s Timed Event Championship of the World. Tell me about the wreck, and the injury.
Spencer Mitchell: I wish it was a good wreck. The year before I had a really good wreck there and only sprained my ankle. This time, I just caught the steer a little bit high in my chest and when my feet hit the ground the steer tucked his nose down behind my right knee and pushed me forward with my right foot stuck behind me in the dirt, which shoved my knee sideways. I could feel it all happening and tearing in slow motion. I got the steer thrown down, but I tore my ACL, my lateral meniscus and broke a piece of bone off of my right knee.
KS: When did you have the surgery, and what did they do to you?
SM: I had the surgery at Sierra Pacific Orthopedic in Fresno on December 23. They went in and grafted a new ACL, my meniscus was basically folded completely back over itself so they got that straight, then they took a piece of bone from a different part of my knee and made a bone plug for the part that was broken.
KS: Why’d you wait so long to get it fixed?
SM: I wanted to rodeo all year, and as a team roper the USTRC Finals and the World Series Finale are really big for us. I wanted to have an opportunity to win something at those big events.
KS: What have you been doing to rehab your knee, and when do you expect to return to roping?
SM: They started me on a compression motion machine the day after surgery for seven hours a day to help me with the flexion and bending of my leg. I started therapy the first week after surgery, and have been going to that twice a week. What’s really been holding me back is the bone plug. I couldn’t start putting weight on my leg until February 6, so I’ve been on crutches this whole time. I don’t wish crutches on anyone. At the moment I’m not positive when I’ll be released to rope again or feel ready to go. I don’t want to wait this long then mess it up in one rodeo trying to come back too soon.
KS: Who are you going to rope with when you come back?
SM: I’m not sure just yet. I’ll have a partner that’s up to par, but there are a few things up in the air at the moment. It’ll be someone I’ve roped with before. I like to rope with guys I’m close to and am good friends with. I’ve always had a lot of success doing that.
KS: I heard you lost your good bay horse, Keeper. What happened and when?
SM: On December 30, exactly one week after my knee surgery, the wind blew really hard and broke an old tree branch down 40-50 feet from Keeper’s pen. It spooked him really bad in the middle of the night and he tried to jump the fence. He broke his left hind leg right below the hock. My parents went out to feed that next morning, and woke me up with the news.
KS: How old was Keeper, and how long had you ridden him?
SM: Keeper was turning 12 this year, so he had a lot of time left. I bought him in 2009, and the first year I rodeoed on him was in 2010, when Broc made his first Finals and I missed it by about $4,000. Broc and I roped from the first of April on that year. My first rodeo on Keeper was Laughlin, and we won a good check.
KS: What made him great?
SM: Keeper’s personality. All he ever did was try to help you, and he never did anything to try and get in your way. He scored better than anything I’ve ever ridden and was great everywhere.
KS: Do you have other good ones right now?
SM: Not really. Keeper was one of a kind. We’re all always looking for good horses, and it took me a long time to find him. My sister (Ashley) has a horse I can win on. And I’m keeping my eyes open trying to find something else.
KS: Losing Keeper right after having knee surgery was a pretty tough double whammy, huh?
SM: It was, for sure. I was trying to hobble out there on my crutches. To see that was pretty tough.
KS: How much did you ride Keeper when you roped with Broc, and did that make losing him even harder on you?
SM: Keeper helped Broc and I both make our first Finals. He gave me a chance to make it in 2010 and helped Broc make it that year. He’s the only horse I rode in 2011, when I made my first Finals roping with Broc. Keeper was definitely a tie to Broc. Anybody who’s had a great horse knows how hard a loss like this is. Keeper was so honest and kind hearted. No one forgets the first horse that helped him make the Finals, especially when that’s what you rode once you got there, too. It’s a huge loss for me to lose Keeper, especially because of the bond with Broc. It’s all been upside down for me. It’s time to turn it right-side up, put a new tablecloth on it and start over.