Baby steps for a bull rider
Less than two months after 25-year-old Nome native and rodeo star Beau Schroeder felt the wrath of an animal named 800 Night Moves, Beau sat on a bull again — the first time he had done so since an accident left him with a torn trachea and two collapsed lungs.
Friday, May 3, Beau and his grandfather Ickey Schroeder, made a trip out to Ickey’s ranch, formally known as Triple S Rodeo, where Beau’s family held local rodeo competitions and where he first learned to ride at the age of five.
“It was tip top,” Beau said. “This place was up and rolling. It’d run until 12 or 1 o’clock in the morning. It was an all-day affair, starting at 10 in the morning. It was a big deal back then. Some of the older guys that are known around here like Howdy Cloud and Robey Condra — that’s where they all learned to ride bulls.”
At the old Triple S Rodeo, the young rodeo star took a giant baby step toward riding again. While his grandfather attempted to load a stubborn but friendly Brahma bull named Buddy into the chute, Beau recounted what he said was one of the worst days of his young life.
Beau sustained a life-threatening injury while competing in an Xtreme Bulls event Sunday, March 24. He said his memory was a bit foggy about what happened that afternoon in Fort Mojave, Ariz.
“I don’t actually remember getting on him,” he said. “I remember standing there waiting for him to come in. Once he come in, I went to crawl over to get on him and I woke up hurt.”
Beau would only find out what happened after it was all over from friends, family, other cowboys and from a tape of the accident he watched over and over again — enough to describe the grisly details.
To see the wreck, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PeUdeNIrSA&feature=youtube_gdata_player
“I knew he was bad,” Beau said. “There wasn’t nothing anybody could do. I wear a helmet and vest and chaps and everything. He had 4 to 6 inches where he could hurt me, and that’s exactly what happened. He got my chin up and got me exposed, jerked me down and messed me up. He hit me with his horn. It didn’t do nothing to the outside of my neck, but it cut my throat on the inside 180 degrees and collapsed both lungs.”
Justin Sportsmedicine team members tried to help Beau, but didn’t know at the time that he had a torn trachea because the injury was not visible.
Debbie Schroeder, Beau’s mother, received a call from Rusty Dillard, a friend of the family and fellow bull rider from Sour Lake who was in Las Vegas with Beau. Dillard, Justin Sportsmedicine team members and PRCA officials initially believed that Beau had a broken jaw because his neck was so swollen.
“A lot of (bull riders) break their jaws,” Debbie said.
Unfortunately, Beau’s injuries were much more serious.
Beau said that after lying face down in the red dirt of the Mojave Crossing Event Center for several minutes, he regained consciousness but couldn’t breathe unless his body was in an upright position. It was the only thing keeping him alive, according to the 2012 NFR Average Champion.
“If they would have strapped me to the (gurney) board, I would have died,” he said.
Beau was transported by ambulance to the hospital in Fort Mojave, where he received a life-saving procedure.
“They inserted a (tracheal) tube in him at Fort Mojave, and they said that was the only thing that saved his life,” said Punkee Schroeder, Beau’s father.
Beau was then airlifted to University Medical Center (UMC) in Las Vegas where he spent eight hours in a coma.
“They had me in a coma from about 4 o’clock until about midnight,” Beau said.
Debbie said that she and her husband, Punkee, didn’t know the extent of Beau’s injuries and waited an hour after the accident before they started making arrangements to fly to Las Vegas.
“I talked to the doctor on the way to the airport, and he said that they just had gotten him out of the CAT scan and they couldn’t see anything,” Debbie said.
However, when Beau’s parents and sister, Nikki Duke, 33, arrived at the airport in Houston, Debbie called the doctor again before she boarded the plane for Vegas, and this time she received some troubling news.
“He told me that (Beau’s) trachea was torn and they were going to have to do surgery,” she said. “He said, ‘This is a very risky surgery. If we lose his airway, we’re going to lose him.’ and I said, ‘You do whatever you’ve got to do. We’re coming as fast as we can.’”
Debbie and Punkee boarded a plane to Vegas around 9:15 that night, with their son’s future remaining uncertain.
“We got on the airplane not knowing for three hours whether he was going to be alive or dead when we got there,” Debbie said. “It was a long flight.”
Debbie said she called everyone she knew and asked them to pray for Beau. Perhaps prayers were answered.
Beau’s emergency surgery went well, and his parents arrived at UMC just in time to find him regaining consciousness from his coma.
Beau wasn’t able to talk, however, and was asking questions with a pen and paper.
“He kept asking me where he was and what happened,” she said. “They had him strapped down because they had that trach in him, and they didn’t want him to pull it out because it would have killed him.”
Following his initial surgery, doctors told Debbie that Beau wouldn’t be able to talk for two weeks and that he would have to wear the tracheal tube for six. However, after a second surgery on Easter morning, Beau recovered much quicker than expected.
“He was talking within three days and the trach was out in a week,” she said. “It was a miracle.”
Every doctor that Debbie spoke to at the hospital echoed the same word — “miracle.”
“They couldn’t believe how well he did,” she said.
Beau said he received plenty of support from fans, too, especially on Facebook.
“I put a post on Facebook a week after it happened saying what happened and ‘thank you for all your prayers and support,’” he said. “It was crazy. I had over 175 comments and 50 e-mails. I tried to read every one of them and keep everyone updated.”
Doctors later told Beau that the injury should have left him dead, and they couldn’t believe that he was able to get up and walk away from it.
“They told me I should have been pronounced dead right where I hit,” Beau said. “They told me there was no way I was supposed to be alive. It’s an uncommon thing, especially to get up and walk away from it. They said I was a medical miracle.”
At first, Beau said he questioned whether he ever would ride again.
“There was no way I was getting on another one,” he said. “I talked to Rusty and told him I was probably going to quit.”
Dillard, who Beau described as ‘like a brother’ to him, offered Beau some encouraging words, and Beau said he changed his mind completely.
“I went from not wanting to get on again to (thinking) this was a freak accident,” Beau said.
Despite overwhelming odds and a close brush with death via 1,800 pounds of blood, bones, hide and fury, Beau said he immediately began to think about when he would get a chance to ride again.
“I thought about it every single day,” Beau said. “That was the first thing I thought about when they were wheeling me out of surgery Easter Sunday morning. I’ve done it for 20 years; that’s all I think about.”
After spending only a week in the hospital, Punkee, Debbie and Beau set out on what would prove to be a long and grueling road trip back home to Nome.
“The first day we only made it from Las Vegas to Flagstaff, Ariz.” Punkee said. “We couldn’t drive but about four hours that day because his lungs were hurting him. We got up the next morning and we didn’t make it from Flagstaff to Santa Rosa, N.M., and he was done. So we stopped again. We pulled out the next morning and drove 14 hours from Santa Rosa to Nome.”
When he finally made it to Nome, Beau said he was glad to be home. The rodeo star wouldn’t want to stay put for long, however.
“It feels good to be home, but I’m ready to get back on the road,” he said.
Beau said that he has started working out, and depending on his recovery, he plans to ride again July 9 through 12 in Canada.
“We’ll see where it goes,” he said. “I got two months left. I’m trying to work out in between going to a chiropractor and getting my body back right. I’m still very, very sore from neck to hips. I’m shooting for the end of June, but there are gonna have to be a lot of changes if I’m gonna make that. If I’m not ready, I’ll just keep pushing it back until I’m ready. If I’m not ready until next year — then it’s just next year.”
Beau said he is working out with an exercise ball and performing light exercise to get his body back in shape, but it hasn’t been an easy recovery.
“My lungs is what the main problem is,” he said. “My chest and my ribs hurt so bad that I can’t even function. I just don’t feel good. I’ll get on a horse once I feel up to it. I’m just not strong right now. I feel weak.”
Ickey, who owns bulls that Beau trains with, finally got Buddy, a docile bull that is known more as a family pet than a menace, into the chute. Although it did take some coaxing to get him to cooperate, Beau and Ickey finally convinced Buddy, with the help of a little feed, to take his spot in the chute. Beau climbed aboard Buddy, the first bull he had mounted since the accident in Fort Mojave left him for dead.
“It’s all normal,” Beau said. “It feels good to wrap my legs around one for sure. I didn’t know it would feel this good.”
The feel of Buddy seemed to only drive Beau’s desire to ride again.
“A lot of people say I’m nuts for wanting to do it again, but they don’t understand,” Beau said. “When that’s all you know, that’s all you know.”
When asked if given the opportunity, if he would ride 800 Night Moves again, Beau replied, “No. Never.”
According to Beau, the owner of the bull had his son call to check on Beau while he was in the hospital, and the owner was so shook up by the accident that he sold 800 Night Moves the day following the accident.
“They didn’t want him any more,” he said.
Although Beau might not have to ride the bull that almost killed him again, he said he knew that the next bull he would face would not be a docile family pet like Buddy.
Despite the uncertainty of Beau’s recovery, he said that his future is bull riding no matter what and his parents said they would support him no matter what decision he makes.
“He’s a cowboy; that’s what they do,” Punkee said.
Beau described the first time he set foot in the Thomas & Mack Center, the UNLV campus rodeo arena, where PRCA’s National Rodeo Finals (NFR) are held.
“That’s what you work and dream for,” he said. “You can imagine what it’s going to be like and all that, but when you add in to that grand entry … the first time I did it, I had chills — the biggest chills I’ve had in my whole life. It is the coolest thing in the world.”
And perhaps those chills are what keep bringing Beau back, even after the most devastating injury of his life.
“It’s something you dream about. It’s just something that gets in your blood,” said Beau, whose father, Punkee, was also a bull rider. “I don’t think I have anything to prove; it’s just all I know and all I want to know.”
Kevin King can be reached at (409) 832-1400, ext. 225, or by e-mail at kevin [at] theexaminer [dot] com.