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J.R. Vezain

J.R. Vezain – Cowley, Wyo. ($78,376)
6-time WNFR qualifier

Although JR Vezain has qualified for his sixth Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the cowboy from Cowley, Montana, won’t be strapping his rigging on some of the world’s best bareback horses in December.

Instead JR is working to regain the use of his legs after a serious accident at the Pasadena (Texas) Livestock Show & Rodeo September 22. The horse he was riding bucked back into the chute and flipped over on him smashing his back in the process.

JR immediately knew he was seriously hurt. He began praying and was transported to a Houston hospital where he underwent five hours of emergency surgery the next day. He fractured two vertebrae in what is called a Chance fracture, but that wasn’t even the main injury. The accident shifted his spine, compressing and pinching his spinal cord. Doctors were able to shift his spine back to the original position and inserted two rods and eight screws in his back.

Since then he has been undergoing physical therapy and working to regain feeling and mobility in his legs. His wife Shelby has been by his side since the accident.

One month after the accident, Shelby posted the following on Facebook.

“JR had some awesome movement this weekend in his legs! He was able to pick up his feet in the pool using his hip flexors. They also put him on a wooden box & he could lift each leg (using his hip flexors) We are beyond the moon excited for this new movement! Praise God!,” she said.

The couple, who are expecting their first child, have been grateful for all the support they have received from the rodeo world during this trying time.

“Every time we run our hand in, there’s a chance of something like this happening,” JR told ProRodeo Sports News. “You can either look to blame and get mad and ask why, or you can make the most of it and find the positive and start working to get better. This has been humbling. I’m at a loss for words to see how many friends I truly have and everybody who has stepped up to help me out. All I can say is thank you to everybody. I do believe the good Lord will make something good from this, and I will be a walking miracle here before too long. I want to be the story that changes lives for the better. That, to me, is way more exciting and way more important than any gold buckle that can be won.”

A two-time high school wrestling champion, JR is using the determination and mental toughness that he honed as a wrestler, along with his strong faith, to confront this latest, most serious challenge.

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