Blake Henry wasn’t supposed to be competing in the Junior National Finals Rodeo presented by YETI in Las Vegas this week.
Two years ago, the Rushville, Nebraska, cowboy severely injured his shoulder while competing in three sports. Doctors figured his days of competing in sports were over.
But Tuesday, Henry was one of 52 steer wrestlers taking part in the inaugural Ote Berry’s Junior Steer Wrestling World Championship at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena.
“My freshman year I broke a bone in my arm and my labrum tore completely apart,” Henry said matter-of-factly. “I messed it up the first time in football and then it just kept progressing through steer wrestling. It got to where I couldn’t even jump off the side of my horse without my arm popping out.”
Henry believes he simply had too many irons in the fire and that’s what led to the injury.
“I was trying to play football, wrestle and steer wrestle at the same time,” he said. “I’m only a 140-pound cowboy, so trying to play football and wrestle steers like I’m 240 … sometimes it doesn’t come together. I ended up tearing everything.
“I had reconstructive shoulder surgery. I had my labrum and my rotator cuff completely redone.”
Henry had a no-time Tuesday, but the fact he’s even competing again, especially in a sport that puts so much stress on the shoulders, is impressive. Henry will be the first to admit he wouldn’t be competing in Las Vegas this week without a lot of help.
He credits Dr. Heber Crockett, an orthopedic and sports medicine surgeon at New West Sports Medicine and Orthopaedic Surgery in Kearney, Nebraska, for fixing his shoulder.
“I’m still healing,” Henry said. “My shoulder is holding up and Dr. Crockett is the man who did it for me. He’s the man that put me back together. I want to thank him because he got my career back on track.”
That was only the physical aspect of the injury, however. Henry still had to deal with the mental aspect of getting back on his horse and in the arena.
“In the back of my head I was worried that I might not be able to steer wrestle again,” Henry said
Enter Bill Manning, who runs steer wrestling and chute doggin’ clinics in Nebraska. Manning, who had worked with Henry before the injury, reached out to his former star student and offered him a lifeline.
“He called me up one day in the middle of January and he asked me if I was going to steer wrestle that spring,” Henry recalled. “I said I didn’t know, but he told me to come out to his place and start jumping on steers again.”
Now, the former Junior High School Rodeo Association national qualifier is in position to qualify for the national high school finals this coming summer. And for that, Henry knows who to thank.
“Bill Manning is the one that got me to where I started believing in myself again,” Henry said. “And that’s what it takes in this event – believe in yourself and believe in the horse that you’re riding.”
While Henry admits he’s still not 100 percent physically or mentally, he has no such concerns about the horse he’s riding in Las Vegas.
Manning is letting him use Skip, a roan that Gering, Nebraska, native Dean Gorsuch won two world championships on.
“I really appreciate him for letting me use his horse,” Henry said. “Right now we’re sitting third in the state in the high school standings. So right now I’m riding one of the best horses here, no ifs, and or buts about it.”
There’s also no question that, even with a no-time Tuesday, Henry has one of the better stories to tell at the Junior NFR this week.
“Today just wasn’t my day,” Henry said. “But these guys are the best in the nation, that’s why they’re here. I’m just fortunate myself to come back from such a horrendous accident and recover as well as I have.
“I’m just blessed to be here.”