LAS VEGAS – One of the biggest storylines at this year’s National Finals Rodeo revolves around a guy who is tragically not here.
Wyoming bareback rider JR Vezain, a Cowley native who now lives in Melstone on the family ranch of his wife Shelby, is camped out in Salt Lake City simply learning, and hoping, to walk again.
“He had a spinal cord injury,” Dr. Tandy Freeman of the Justin Sports Medicine Team said on CBS Sports Network during opening night at the NFR. “He doesn’t have any motor skills function in his legs, and in all likelihood it’s permanent.”
Vezain is rehabbing in the Salt Lake City area now three months after a horse fell on him while competing at rodeo in Texas.
“Two months ago, I couldn’t even sit on the edge of the bed for 10 minutes,” Vezain said in a recent interview. “Now I’m getting myself out of bed, pretty much getting myself dressed.”
Vezain had won enough money to ride at the NFR. But instead, three-time world champion Will Lowe stepped into his spot from the 16th position. Only the top 15 year-end money winners in each event qualify for the NFR.
“This is my 15th time and I kind of came back under unfortunate circumstances with JR getting hurt,” Lowe said on the network. “You know, (he’s) an inspiration to a lot of people now.”
“Everyone wishes he could be in the locker room getting ready with us every night,” lamented fellow bareback rider Richmond Champion. “He’s just a stud. You want to be around him, you want him to be there with you. He just builds everybody up. He’s incredible.”
Kind words from Vezain’s friends colleagues.
That sentiment is shared by most every contestant at the finals.
Lowe has won money in two of the seven rounds.