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An interview with the head of Justin Sports Medicine 

Mike Rich, LAT, ATC Executive Director

An athlete’s body is the most useful tool they have. This is no different for rodeo. While their equine athlete provides the ride and is essential to one’s success, a healthy body is a vital part of an athlete’s career. It’s this piece that is often overworked and overlooked.  Like any other professional sport, there is a team of doctors who are keeping cowboys and cowgirls put together behind the scenes. For rodeo, this team is known as the Justin Sports Medicine team.  In 1980, Walt Garrison and John Justin Sr. of Justin Boots were at a party where legendary rough stock rider Jim Shoulders was hurt. That night, the group came up with a revolutionary idea that would impact the rodeo world forever. A sport medicine program for rodeo athletes.  J Pat Evans was the Dallas Cowboys’ team physician. It just so happened that John Justin was a dear friend of J.  After a call from Justin concerning Jim, J Pat met Jim for a consultation, and from there came Justin Sports Medicine as we know it.

 Mike Rich, now the executive director of Justin Sports Medicine, has seen the bodies of rodeo athletes since 1987, when he covered his first rodeo in Scottsdale, Arizona. He then took over the company as owner about fifteen years ago and has retained ownership while still treating since then.  His bags stayed packed much like those of a rodeo cowboy, anywhere they go he follows. In his own words, “I don’t stay home much.” From rough stock to timed events, the most common injury Rich sees on the summer run is overuse. While competing morning and night all across the country, cowboys are competing 24/7 with small breaks of maybe a day or two in-between if they’re lucky.

 “The biggest piece of advice I can give is you know what hydrate, yourself take those vitamins, eat healthy even though that can be a struggle on the road, and to stretch and warm up. If they can do those few things, their summer run is just going to be better,” says Rich. He treats summer run injuries and NFR injuries the same, with great care and the knowledge that a career for themselves and their families is on the line.  “Whether it happened in Greeley, Colorado or the at Thomas and Mack in Vegas, we treat every injury the same,” Rich continued, “We see everything from a hangnail to unfortunately death. Thankfully, the last one is not as common but I have seen it.”

 “It’s a dangerous sport with animals involved and high intensity, we have to be prepared for that.” 

As the emergency room for cowboys, Rich has connections to hospitals, surgeons and ER’s across the country. For Rich, efficiency for everyone involved with the Justin Sports Medicine team is essential. “I can treat you like a professional athlete no matter where I am; From Prescott to Cheyenne, I do not want them waiting for two hours in a waiting room. I have every doctor they might need lined up, and a surgeon to follow. I even have pediatric contacts because these guys have wives and kids on the road with them, it is a family sport, we treat the family too.” As an expert in cowboy treatment, the doctors favorite part is still the appreciation and comradery between the cowboys and his staff. Rich has traveled the world. From European tennis matches, to being in the dugout with pro baseball players, to being on the ice with pro hockey players, he’s seen it all.   

“The biggest thing for me is still when a rodeo guy comes in and asks for a band aid he thanks me for it three different times; you got to major league baseball and they don’t like the color of the band-aid, and they don’t like the way it’s sticking. It’s appreciation. That’s the reason I have boiled it down to only treating one sport and this is the one I chose.” Rich and the Justin team will cover 138 rodeos, and has volunteers set up across the country. If you have medical credentials and are interested in joining the team they always need the help. Apply at: Justin Sports Crisis fund helps injured cowboys get the care they need when recovering from injuries and can always be donated to at:

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