Rexburg bull rider competing for world title after injuries kept him out last season
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IDAHO FALLS — Garrett Smith of Rexburg spends countless hours doing what some people would never risk trying. He rides 1,500-plus-pound bulls while trying to hang on for eight seconds.
In December, the 24-year-old will return to the Wrangler’s National Finals Rodeo for his third appearance after recovering from a series of injuries.
The event is put together by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, a group Smith’s been part of since 2014. The top 15 contestants in bareback riding, bull riding, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, team roping (headers and heelers), tie-down roping, and barrel racing, qualify for the NFR, all based on the amount of money the rider won during the regular season.
But the past few years of participating in the rodeo haven’t been as kind to Smith as he’d hoped.
“We’re finally healthy,” Smith said. “It’s weird.”
In round three of the 2017 Wrangler’s National Finals Rodeo, Smith tore his ACL. But that didn’t stop him from finishing the seven other rounds. He tapped underneath his knee, put a knee brace on and pushed through. Smith finished in 5th place.
“I went in second in the world that year,” Smith said. “Coming into the third round, if it would’ve ended there, I would’ve won the world (title) with all the averages because I was winning the averages.”
Smith followed the Wrangler’s National Finals Rodeo with surgery shortly after. But it didn’t keep him down for long. In fact, he said he came back three months earlier than what was projected. He picked up right where he left off and was on track to qualify for the 2018 finals but suffered another injury, one he said was worse than the torn ACL.
This time a bull stepped on him, which broke his pelvis and causing internal bleeding. He went roughly four months between his ACL to pelvis injury where he was actually able to walk.
“It was horrible sitting at home, watching everyone, on crutches,” Smith said.
The road to recovery wasn’t Smith’s favorite part — especially all the physical therapy sessions. He had to learn how to ride and get off the bull without creating more damage to his healing body. On top of that, he had to teach himself to overcome his nerves of getting back on a bull, thinking something would go wrong.
“Bull riding is pretty much all mental,” Smith said. “Once you get that out of your head, that it’s not going to hurt and that you’ll be all right, it makes it easier to ride them.”
This season, things are looking up for Smith. He comes in at No. 7 in the bull riding world standings, and the only injury he’s dealt with is one that wasn’t as serious as the others — a torn groin.
“The goal is to actually stay on and be healthy this year,” Smith said. “I’m just going to go, close my eyes and hang on.”
The 2019 Wrangler’s National Final Rodeo runs from Dec. 5 to Dec. 14 in Las Vegas.