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Chance Smart led the PRCA bull riding world standings for 10 months in 2008. To be more specific, he led for 10 months and nine rounds of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. In the 10th and final round he lost his lead and, consequently, the world championship. He was down but not out... until his first Xtreme Bulls competition in 2009.
While competing in Franklin, S.D., on January 31, Smart collided head-to-horn with the bull Skunk Works.
The hit fractured Smart's cheekbone in three places and knocked him unconscious immediately. He was slung from the bull to the ground and, "like a slinghot," his limp body slammed his head to the arena floor. The bull then literally kicked Smart while he was down delivering a parting shot to the abdomen before bullfighters could rush in.
It's been six months since the incident, and Smart is still struggling to complete the long road back to rodeoing. He has opted for a helmet and is wearing special prescription glasses to combat the lingering double vision in his right eye. After nine straight buck-offs, he rode his first bull at the Old Fort Days Rodeo in Fort Smith, Ark., and ESPN photographer Mark Stallings was there to capture it.
ESPN.com: What happened in the bull ride that injured you?
Well, I was riding in an Xtreme Bulls event in Franklin, S.D., on my second bull up there. I had rode the bull once before, last year, in San Antonio and I was 86 on him then, so I just thought it'd be a good, decent bull for me to get on and make the short round and win me a little money. Well, when he turned back, my feet ended up sliding back on me, which pulled my upper body down. When it pulled my upper body down, I went to grab his neck with my free hand to block him, to keep him from hitting me in the face. Somehow, I missed his hump with my free hand, which caused his horn to come up and catch me right in the cheekbone. When his horn hit me in the cheekbone on the right side, it broke it in three places and caused this double vision.
As long as I've been rodeoing, I've never heard of somebody having double vision from an injury like that. Most people who have the injury like this tend to be back going within a couple months, at least, and be back dang near 100 percent. J.W. Harris, last year, got stepped on in the cheekbone and he had to have reconstructive surgery on his face and I didn't even have to have that kind of surgery on my face. And he saw just fine after a couple months. For some reason I never could figure out why, I kept on seeing double; the double vision never got better. I got to where I could see straight and everything above straight, but as soon as I started looking down, I'd be seeing double. And I never could figure that out.
I went to nine different doctors, and finally I found a doctor at Vision America, Dr. Irene Ludwig. She pretty much came up with the thought that you can have surgery on eye muscles and move them to keep people from seeing double. She took a hold of me and did what she could, and here I am. She's done wonders.
ESPN.com: You also had some bleeding on the brain, right?
Smart:I did I think that came from when the bull hit me on the cheekbone it knocked me out. So, here I am flying through the air, my body just limp because I was knocked out. The bull kind of had a foot on my hip bone and when I hit, my butt hit the ground first and when I hit, it was like a slingshot effect; it just shot my head against the ground really hard it just bounced off the ground.
I think the bleeding on the brain came from that incident. I had no muscles to stop the impact I was out, so therefore, [my head] just acted like a bouncy ball, bouncing off the ground.
ESPN.com:Are there any long term effects from that?
Smart:Nope the bleeding on the brain stopped itself that night. I went in and had a CT scan again, or an MRI, I can't remember which, and they saw that it was disintegrating it was going away.
ESPN.com: Do you remember any of it?
Smart: I tell you what, that was another thing it did to me. I was knocked out for about 30 minutes from the injury knocked slam out, I was gone. And that's unusual, most people are knocked out a minute, two minutes, three minutes at the most, 15. Well, I didn't wake up until I got to the hospital and that was 20 to 30 minutes after I got knocked out. They were thinking I'd come to in the back pens, but I never did, so they took me in the ambulance and I never came up in the ambulance.
Anyway, that type of knockout my wife has told me stories about the way that I was when I woke up and started moving around she said that I didn't even know who she was. She said, 'Do you remember me,' and I said, 'No, I know I'm supposed to know you, but I can't think of your name right now.' Dude, it messed my memory up pretty badly. I don't even remember the trip home. We drove from Rapid City, S.D.; my father-in-law and my brother came to pick me and my wife up and drive us home and they've told me stories about what we did on the way home. I don't know anything. We ate at Cracker Barrel twice and I don't remember none of that. I pretty much lost about 10 days worth of memory right there, and I don't remember nothing. Even being at home they said I went out and shot guns when I was at home, and I don't remember nothing.
They said that it was 10 days later and I was steadily asking the same questions. My face was all black and blue you know how long it takes for a bruise to go away my face was pretty bruised and swollen up really badly, and I had a big old scab on my cheek. I cannot remember to this day looking in the mirror and seeing myself so it took a little bit longer for my memory to come back.
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