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Smith, Schaeffer unable to repeat as Medora champs

Press Photo by Royal McGregor In this 2013 photo, Blake Smith rides during the Blue Hawk Stampede at the DSU Outdoor Arena. Due to injury, Smith won’t ride in the Medora Badlands Rodeo beginning today.

Hundreds of spectators flock to fairgrounds and arenas to watch rodeos.

They stare in awe, holding their breaths to see if their favorite cowboy or cowgirl can make the eight-second ride or round the barrels in a quick enough timeframe.

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Blake Smith and Clay Schaeffer were crowned the winners of the bareback and saddle bronc events, respectively, for the 2013 Medora Badlands Rodeo.

But the two reigning champs won’t be seen anywhere near the bucking shoots this year after suffering injuries. The Badlands Rodeo starts at 6 p.m. today at the Medora Rodeo Grounds.

Battle past the pain

Smith, from Zap, will continue to rest after re-breaking his wrist and chipping a bone off his ankle in March at a rodeo in Fargo. Last year, he won with a score of 79.

“I was at the pro rodeo in Fargo, got on a big strong horse of Mosbrucker’s and about five seconds (in), he kind of hit me in the back of the head and I was seeing stars,” Smith said. “Pretty soon, I was hung up and did three laps in the Fargodome and in that process he stepped on my ankle a couple times and I knew I kind of tweaked it.

“It wasn’t my best day.”

Smith is still fairly new to professional rodeo and has competed in four rodeos this year, including a win in Gillette, Wyo. He originally started competing professionally two years ago while still competing at Dickinson State and made it to the Badlands Circuit finals.

During his career, Smith has seen his share of gruesome injuries. In addition to his broken wrist, Smith has experienced concussions, getting stepped on in two occasions which resulted in four broken ribs and 25 stitches in his head.

With the threats of being severely injured never fleeting, Smith has never been deterred from competing in the sport he loves and achieving his goals.

“You’re going to get hung up one of these days, it’s no different than driving your car,” Smith said. “You still drive your car and still have a chance getting into an accident but you don’t get worried about it, you do it and get used to it.”

Smith will begin competing again and plans to attend PRCA events in Sturgis, S.D., Crazy Horse, S.D., and Grassy Butte.

Beginning a new chapter

After Schaeffer split first place in saddle bronc with Rollie Wilson, his professional career came to an end just months later.

At a professional rodeo in August at Harriet, S.D., Schaeffer was bucked off his bronc at the whistle. It then stepped right on his back. He suffered a compound fracture of the T12 vertebra and if he wasn’t wearing his protective vest — which he started wearing in January — he could have been paralyzed.

“Right when it happened, I could feel my legs but I couldn’t really move them and went into shock and stuff,” Schaeffer said. “It happened on a Saturday and on that Monday I saw a neurologist, and they did a surgery where they put in two rods and six screws in my back.”

The life of a rodeo athlete is not one of leisure and glory. The harsh reality is it’s filled with pain and uncertainty. Every time a rider steps into the arena, he is taking a chance if he will walk out scratch-free.

“Injuries are one of those things — especially with the roughstock events — it’s not if you get hurt, it’s when,” Schaeffer said. “You never think you’re going to have a career-ending injury.”

Since the career-ending surgery, Schaeffer has found a new passion in music and is a member of the band Sawdust. While he is happy the traveling aspect of rodeo is over, he does still miss bronc riding. Still he is incredibly thankful for having the ability to walk and the opportunity to compete.

“I’m real lucky and grateful I can still walk and I didn’t make the (National Finals Rodeo) like I wanted to, but I got to go to pro rodeos for five years and give it a shot,” he said. “Real grateful I got to at least try.”

Although Schaeffer has no plans of getting back to competition in the near future, he has thrown the idea around of possibly getting involved in team roping or even judging.

With the start of the rodeo today, hundreds more of contestants will compete and chase their professional goals, whether it’s making Circuit finals or the big time at the NFR. The spirit of the weekend will always be lively with cowboys and cowgirls trying to make their dreams come true.

Meaghan MacDonald

Meaghan is the sports page designer and copy editor for the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.  After graduating from James Madison University (Va.) in May 2013, she moved from New Jersey to North Dakota to start pursuing her career in sports journalism and was a sports reporter for the Dickinson Press and covered Dickinson State athletics. Meaghan has been working for the Forum since June 2015.