Struggling to get up off the Thomas &Mack Center arena floor after being bucked off in Round 4, bareback rider Casey Colletti was at his lowest point of the week.
Just one night removed from suffering a sprained medial collateral ligament when Frontier Rodeo’s Full Baggage sent him flying after a successful ride, Colletti was in serious pain, both mentally and physically. His right knee throbbing and his mind wondering what the rest of his third career Wrangler National Finals Rodeo would be like, Colletti was helped out of the arena with his head hanging.
“I was at ground level,” said the 27-year-old from Pueblo, Colo. “I was in the dirt yesterday and last night. I was just fighting my head bad.
“I didn’t know what to do. I’ve been healthy the last couple of years, but it’s just tough when you get hurt because there’s nothing you can do. There’s really not a good injury to have in the bareback riding, maybe your free-arm wrist.”
After a day spent treating the knee and a bang-up tape job by the Wrangler NFR medical personnel, Colletti “cowboyed up” and showed his true mettle Monday night. He spurred Pickett Pro Rodeo’s Top Flight for 87.5 points and tied four-time World Champion Bobby Mote for the round victory.
It was Colletti’s first check since the opening round and was a boost that had him beaming from ear to ear after the dust settled.
“Today, I just knew I had a chance, because J.R. Vezain won the 10th Flight last year,” said Colletti, who also won Round 5 at last year’s Finals. “I’m through the ceiling right now with confidence.”
That wasn’t the case hours before, as Colletti knew the prospect of riding a bucking horse with a bum knee was less than ideal.
“It’s not very easy,” Colletti said of riding with a knee injury. “Tonight was a little bit easier because the horse was just super amazing and outstanding, leaping in the air and giving me a lot of time. When you get that pressure pushing on it and your knee tweaks a little bit, it hurts.”
A sprained MCL eliminates an athlete’s ability to maneuver his leg as a bareback rider must. And the pain can be shocking.
“It’s not stable with a twist or a move,” Colletti said. “If I can walk straight where my knee stays in line and doesn’t move, it’s outstanding. If I’m in bed and roll over and catch it on the sheets, oh man, there’s a wet spot later.”
Hours of treatment that included ice, heat, riding a stationary bicycle and laser treatment, coupled with a pound of medical tape, had Colletti raring to go on Tough Enough To Wear Pink Night.
“My hat’s off to the Justin SportsMedicine Team and Dr. Tandy Freeman and those guys,” he said. “Last night, we kind of had trouble getting my knee taped and tightened well, but tonight we knocked it out of the ballpark.
“I don’t even want to take off the tape right now. I just want to leave it on for five more days.”
Colletti was the third of 15 riders to nod his head on Monday night, so he had to wait through a dozen more rides to see whether his score would hold up. With many of the event’s best horses in the Round 5 pen, Colletti was considerably nervous as he watched the other riders.
“It’s kind of tough sitting up there on the bucking chutes being the third guy out,” he said. “You’re going, ‘Do good, but not good enough.’ We’re all friends and buddies and all want to win, so it’s crazy.”
Mote was awarded a re-ride after Carr Pro Rodeo’s Night Bells had a bad outing, and he made the most of it on Andrews Rodeo’s PTSD Power Play. Mote and Colletti each took home checks for $16,678 for splitting first and second, cash that serves as good medicine for Colletti.
“It makes all the pain go away,” he said.
Mote began this year’s Wrangler NFR battling the flu and has ridden through several injuries during his illustrious career, so he can relate to what Colletti is dealing with.
“For the first three days, I was having trouble getting out of bed coming here,” said Mote, who regained the No. 1 spot in the world standings with the first-place tie. “If you’re going to choose this event, it’s a given you’re going to have to deal with being sore. Winning will make you walk around a lot better, too.”
A freelance writer based in Colorado Springs, Colo., Neal Reid spent six years as editor of the ProRodeo Sports News. His writing has appeared in USA Today, Newsday, Western Horseman, American Cowboy and the Denver Post, among other publications. Follow him on Twitter: @NealReid21.