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Grateful rodeo rider aims to pay back fund that helped him

When a nagging and painful back injury kept him out of the rodeo arena last year, professional bareback rider Tilden Hooper faced a difficult decision: Get his herniated disks fused or face a long and uncertain stint of rehabilitation.

At 23, the cowboy from Carthage, Texas, wasn’t ready to trade in a bucking horse for a rocking chair. So he embarked on an arduous daily stretching, traction and workout routine that resulted in full recovery and an even stronger back.

Hooper is competing in the 53rd annual Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. The 10-day event started Thursday night at the Thomas & Mack Center.

He didn’t make the journey back to the NFR by himself. He had help from doctors and physical therapists and a boost from the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund, which provides assistance to injured cowboys and their families.

The fund helps families make mortgage payments and keep the lights on while riders are sidelined. Unlike most other professional athletes, rodeo cowboys don’t get paid to sit on the bench or mend on the disabled list.

When you get injured, he says, you “end up draining your whole dang savings, and there’s no way to get ahead.”

Hooper is not only grateful, but he and his fellow Crown Royal-sponsored teammates also hope to give back more than thanks in the coming week. For every 90-point ride they score, Crown Royal will donate $2,000 to the Justin crisis fund.

With that back injury behind him, Hooper plans to help Crown Royal make at least a couple contributions.

“I feel like I’m in better shape now than at any time in my life,” Hooper says.

HO, HO, HO: The Great Santa Run to benefit Opportunity Village is set for Saturday morning at Town Square. The run starts at 10 a.m., and you can find out more information about this hilariously fun and worthwhile event at
Opportunity Village is dedicated to assisting adults with mental challenges in the community and is among the valley’s oldest charities.

FREE LUNCH: The New York Times has quantified what struggling Southern Nevada families have known for months — that school meal programs are being tested in this rough economy.

Last year alone, a Times analysis found, use of free and reduced-price school meal programs increased 17 percent from 18 million to 21 million.

With its high unemployment, Nevada is one of the states to see a sharp rise in need.

TITUS-KIHUEN: If early political polls counted for much, canaries would be circling Ruben Kihuen’s head right now. The judges’ scorecard would read: “Titus by KO in the first round.”

As it is, the match pitting Kihuen against veteran political pugilist Dina Titus figures to go the distance. (I have now exhausted my daily allotment of boxing references.)

Titus released an internal poll that has generated a heap of mainstream media play that shows her beating Kihuen 77 percent to 11 percent. The Democratic primary in the 1st Congressional District is still a few months away, but the poll is a reminder Titus enjoys big name recognition with diehard Democrats.

It’s also a sign Kihuen has work to do. Jabs Kihuen campaign manager Dan Chavez: “The race is in June, not in a few weeks. Polls seven months out from Election Day are irrelevant; just ask Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain.”

True, but Titus on Thursday added to her good-news week by releasing endorsements from several longtime Democrats.

Does political momentum count for something?

ON THE BOULEVARD: Attention, happy-hour wiseguys: The Mob Bar opens in early December at 201 N. 3rd St., not far from a certain organized crime-themed museum project. … The El Cortez, the Comeback Kid of downtown, has started a gift drive to benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities. True to its value-driven nature, the casino is offering $10 in free play for gift donations of $5 or more. The toy drive runs through Dec. 16.

Have an item for the Bard of the Boulevard? Email comments and contributions to Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.

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