I am so happy to be able to say that Justin has made leaps and bounds of progress since my last post. After literally going head-to-head with Mickey Mouse at the 2012 PBR World Finals in October, Justin underwent jaw surgery and had his jaw wired shut for over seven weeks. Justin is elated to now be un-wired, eating and talking normally again. He was put under anesthesia on New Year's Eve to remove all of the hardware from his mouth. He was so happy to be set free of milkshakes and all things pureed.
A few days after that procedure, we went in for a consultation concerning his broken left arm (another injury from the wreck at the finals). Up until then, it was likely that Justin would require surgery on his arm to repair the break in his ulna. It was a blessing to find out that the X-ray showed his arm had actually repaired itself while we were waiting on his jaw to heal! His doctor used the words "amazing" and "excellent" when referring to how well it had healed on its own. We did a happy dance and grinned like a couple of opossums for the rest of the day, knowing that this would be one less surgery for him to deal with.
Justin's arm X-ray immediately following the World Finals (left) and after it had repaired itself without surgery (right).
This weekend, we experienced something that we haven't gotten to experience in a long time: Justin sat down with my family, and we watched the Built Ford Tough Series event in Oklahoma City from my aunt and uncle's living room instead of from the arena. It was weird for him to watch all the action on television, and weird for us to watch him ride the couch instead of a bull. My family is essentially a huge network of dedicated PBR fans.
PBR events are a family affair with Justin and Elyse.
The Oklahoma City event is one that they would have most likely traveled to see live, had Justin been competing. Instead, we made the best of the situation, popped popcorn, and made a party out of it. As hard as it probably was for Justin to watch, he said, "That was the best motivation I've had to hurry and get well!" My family has met most of the riders, and they continue cheering for Justin's buddies and on-the-road roommates Kody Lostroh and Jordan Hupp. (My grandmother, Nanny, is a diehard Justin Koon fan, but is also partial to her crush, J.B. Mauney)
Nanny posing with J.B. Mauney at the PBR World Finals in Las Vegas.
Luckily, Justin is not one to let things get him down. So many people have asked him, "Was this injury at the finals your worst ever?" and Justin replies truthfully with, "Oh, NO SIR!" He just turns his list of injuries into a to-do list, and just checks things off the list as he takes care of them. Jaw surgery? Check. Seven weeks of being wired shut? Check. Cast off left arm? Check.
Still left on his to-do list are surgery to repair a torn ACL and MCL on his right knee, and surgery to repair his riding hand. His riding hand gave him fits last season, and he has virtually no grip, which really stood in the way of his riding the second half of the season. He spoke with Dr. Tandy Freeman's nurse on the phone today, and scheduled his knee surgery for February 12. After the knee has a little time to heal, they will proceed with the arm surgery. As I am writing the grocery list of surgeries he will undergo in such a short amount of time, his dedication to the PBR and the sport really sinks in. (If I broke afingerdoing something, you could go right ahead and count me OUT!) It is just ludicrous what these guys go through year after year. They are definitely the epitome of tough in my book!
Elyse and Justin at her graduation from Arkansas Tech University this December.
The tables have taken quite a turn in our household since the finals. I graduated with my Bachelor's Degree in Nursing in December, and accepted a dream RN job at Arkansas Children's Hospital. Up until now, Justin has supported me through the ups and downs of nursing school, and motivated me to, "just get through it, and it will all be worth it." I feel like that's become my job now with him. He is about to go absolutely stir-crazy at home while he's healing, but I try to remind him that once he is all healed up, this will be the first time he has been able to compete at 100% with no injuries since…well…I don't even know when!
The night Justin got hurt at the World Finals, they showed video clips before each rider walked out into the arena as an intro, with a short phrase about each guy. I will never forget Justin's intro: "Battling injury, and qualifying for his second consecutive World Finals, from Grapevine, Arkansas, this is Justin Koon!" Justin had 'battled injury' so much, that they included it in his introduction-and not an hour after that statement echoed throughout the Thomas and Mack Center, he was lying in the arena unconscious with a broken jaw, lacerated chin, torn bicep, broken arm and busted elbow.
If there's anything I've learned from being married to a bull rider, it's that the old saying is true: "It's not if they get hurt, it's when." As a bull rider's wife, you have to be prepared for anything. But, something that has really irked me since Justin's injury is the number of people who have asked me, "When are you going to make him quit?" I usually sugarcoat my answer the best I can to avoid confrontation, but it strikes a nerve much deeper than I let show. In the almost-seven years that I have known Justin, he has been a big ball of injuries. He has scared me half to death, and I would swear my hair has fallen out. But Justin has taught me more lessons about what it means to chase your dreams than any superhero ever did. When we were dating, he was going to rodeos and trying to make ends meet. I remember him eating leftover, day-old fries and scraping to barely get by. I watched him chop firewood in a snowstorm by the light of his truck's headlights one night around Christmas, learning years later that he had sold the firewood for money to buy my Christmas present. Justin rode bulls for a living back before he was even making a living doing it. Now? He rides among the top 35 bull riders in theworld. All of the success Justin has had in the PBR the past couple years is a product of him fighting tooth and nail…(and rib, and jaw, and arm, and lung, and liver and skull). Justin started riding bulls when he was ten…he's 29 now. He has fought for 19 YEARS to be exactly where he is today-and he wouldn't trade his career with the PBR for the world. I think there is a lot to be said for someone who will pour their heart and soul into their career the way that Justin and every other guy on tour has. Retirement from bull riding will come when Justin makes that decision himself. Until then, I am going to be supporting him any way that I can, and trying to be as compassionate about my nursing career as he has been in his bull riding.
"Do things with passion, or not at all. Wherever you go, go with all your heart." --Unknown
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