In the past three years, Vince Stanton figures he spent more than $60,000 on surgeries and tests to fix lingering injuries to his groin and pelvis.
He ended up back at square one: a sore, aching midsection. Money well spent? No.
Then, a friend recommended that Stanton visit a chiropractor. Not quite $150 later, the Weiser, Idaho, bull rider feels like a kid again.
And if his victory at the Lewiston (Idaho) Roundup on Sept. 10 is any indication, Stanton, a three-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier, even at 34, thinks he can turn back the hands of time and remind some that he can still be a force among a 20-something pack of bull riders.
After all, many Idahoans thought he had retired anyway.
"The last couple of years, I'd go somewhere and they'd recognize me," Stanton said. "They remember seeing me on TV, and they'd say they thought I'd quit or retired."
Actually, Stanton, the grandson of the late ProRodeo Hall of Famer Buster Ivory, was nearly forced into retirement by pelvic problems no one could seem to remedy. He was, for a while, a medical mystery waiting to be solved.
From multiple magnetic resonance imagine (MRI) exams, sports hernia surgery and lots of doctor-prescribed rest, Stanton went through the proverbial ringer trying to find a solution to his physical ailments so he could resume his bull-riding career.
His frustration mounted when he received news that more rest figured to be the only way he'd overcome the injury. Fortunately, a family friend he knew enjoyed favorable results from a local chiropractor. With the money he'd spent anyways, he said another bill for an examination wouldn't be much of a gamble.
As it turned out, that day turned Stanton's career and life virtually around with his first adjustment.
"I went to see if he (the chiropractor) could do something," Stanton said. "He said half of my pelvis needed attention, and it was chipped at the top. The first week, about every day, he had to adjust something. The second week, he didn't have to adjust anything."
The test, Stanton said, came on his first practice bull. If the pain flared up again after his ride, then he would consider the experiment a failure.
His first ride produced none of the after-effects he had felt since the 2001 Wrangler NFR. He returned to the chiropractor three more times, then got on another practice bull, this one with a little more power.
He could squeeze his legs together with no pain. Suddenly, a rejuvenated Stanton looked at the calendar to see what part of the rodeo season he could still salvage. He returned to the ProRodeo scene at the Ellensburg (Wash.) Rodeo during the Labor Day weekend, his first event since January.
While he didn't earn a paycheck in Ellensburg or Puyallup (Wash.) the following week, Stanton's confidence continued to skyrocket with the ill-effects of his groin and pelvis injuries behind him. It all came together in Lewiston.
He rode Beard Rodeo Company's Boom Town for 84 points, sharing the event title with Dustin Elliott, the 2004 World Champion, and earned $4,834.
While suffering through his lingering injuries, Stanton worked in the construction business to help support his wife, Dawn, and their five children, ranging in ages from 12 years to 4 months. He compared his quick payday in Lewiston to his "other" job framing and siding houses.
"If I had been working for wages, it would have taken me a month-and-a-half to make what I made in Lewiston in just a few seconds," Stanton said. "I still really love to ride bulls. I always thought that if they could figure out my pelvis problem, I could be competitive again. The last three years, I've had to go to work. I've always loved to ride bulls. Now working, I hate that."
Even with his return to the arena, Stanton and permit-holding bull rider Jarret Nelson have started Broken Bull Rider Construction, an endeavor that will keep the duo busy working on houses when they're not trying to conquer raging bulls.
That, at least in the short-term future, is the dilemma. His new-found health has Stanton feeling like a rookie again. And he'll get to travel with an actual rookie when he and Nelson hit the road for the 2007 rodeo season.
Stanton, despite not being ranked among the top bull riders, can still enter the prestigious early-season rodeos that limit entries based on money earned the previous season. Because of his exempt status from being a three-time Wrangler NFR qualifier (1999, 2001-02), Stanton can still enter such rodeos as the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver and RodeoHouston, among others.
"I want to do whatever I need to do to keep prepared," Stanton said. "I want to be ready for Denver and the other big winter rodeos. There's going to be two months in the late winter and early spring where I'll leave and won't come home."
While returning to the Wrangler NFR is his ultimate goal, he'll settle for a less ambitious one to keep up with his growing family.
"I've won the Columbia River Circuit title four times and an amateur title before I turned pro, so there were five saddles, one for each of us. But since we have a new kid (a daughter, Elle, born in May), the joke here is I have to win another circuit title so I can have a saddle, too."
He figures he has quite a bit of catching up to do.
"I'm a little ticked that I spent 60 grand when I was hurt, and I had been making 100 grand a year before that," Stanton said. "I figure I had $250,000 to $300,000 in lost wages, and I did manage to get a little debt piled up in three years. I'm just glad someone was able to fix what was wrong with me. I can have fun riding again."
If the Lewiston performance is any indication, Stanton will be fun to watch in his return.