COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Jan. 22, 2007) One metal plate, five screws, some bone chips, a major surgery and plenty of resting time. That's what bull rider Sonny Murphy hopes is the recipe for a healthy return to the PRCA.
Murphy broke the C-6 vertebra in his neck during the first round of the 2006 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. After posting an 80.5-point score on Frontier Rodeo's Crooked Tooth in that round, Murphy was injured when he landed hard on his head. Although he was unable to continue competing, Murphy, sporting a neck brace, supported his fellow bull riders for the remainder of the rodeo.
Murphy knows he was lucky a broken neck often means serious injury, even paralysis.
"They said I'd be out a minimum of six months, but I'm going to take the whole year off," Murphy said. "I'll start getting on some bulls in November and just take it easy,
Doctors at the LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City, Utah, performed surgery to the back of Murphy's neck on Dec. 15. It was painful for a few days, but now is much better, he said.
When his neck heals, three of Murphy's vertebrae will be fused together. He said it might limit the mobility in his neck a little, but not much. Right now, he's wearing a neck brace he'll be able to take off after a few more weeks, and tentatively in April will be able to become a little more active.
"I also team rope, so I can start doing that in about six months," Murphy said. "It's going to suck (being away from rodeo for a year), but it's part of it. It could have been a lot worse."
Murphy is just one in a long line of PRCA cowboys who are on the mend and who may miss considerable time this season. The following is a synopsis of their injuries and recovery timelines.
The details of Matt Austin's recent injuries are enough to make just about anyone cringe. The 2005 World Champion Bull Rider tore several muscles in his abdominal and groin areas, and he underwent surgery Dec. 15 in Philadelphia at Hahnemann University Hospital.
Dr. William Myers, who has operated on athletes including hockey player Mikael Renberg and football star Donovan McNabb, performed the surgery on Austin. Myers is known for minimally invasive groin and abdominal surgery for athletes that help get them back to their sport quickly.
"I tore basically the basis of my groin, all the muscles, completely away from the bone, so they reattached those," said Austin, who tried to ride hurt at the Wrangler NFR, but lasted just two rounds. "And then the stomach muscle that runs down to the leg, I'd ripped that in half, so they fixed that too."
Austin took it easy for a couple of weeks. Then, to keep himself busy, he's been working with some young bulls he owns and recently purchased land that he's fixing up.
"I'm feeling pretty good, but I'm not going to push it. I'm enjoying the time off," Austin said. "I guess it's a blessing in disguise."
Austin just started physical therapy and said he could possibly be ready to ride bulls again by RodeoHouston, which begins Feb. 27, but said he'll likely take some extra time to completely heal.
"Even if they say I'm ready, I'll probably take an extra month," Austin said. "It might be April when I'm back. I want to be in better physical shape than I was."
For now, Austin is busy enjoying things at home and feels like he's improving all the time.
"I've been riding this tractor pretty good," Austin joked. "But it just doesn't buck hard enough for me."
D.J. Domangue joined the injury list when Flying Five Rodeo's Rapid Fire Xchange bucked him off and stepped on him in Round 4 of the Wrangler NFR. Domangue (San Angelo, Texas) suffered a dislocated left hip and chipped pelvis and had to be carried from the arena on a stretcher.
He underwent surgery the next day, Dec. 4, at the University Medical Center in Las Vegas, and doctors inserted a plate to stabilize the joint. He was on crutches until Jan. 15 and is set to begin physical therapy soon.
Domangue plans to take his recovery slow and hopes to return to action in Reno, Nev., in June.
"I'm not going to rush it," Domangue said. "I think within a couple of months I'll be able to walk around well, and I'm going to make sure I'm feeling 100 percent."