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Faces of the rodeo: The medical team

LAS VEGAS – It’s one of the busiest places you can find on any given night during the National Finals Rodeo, as cowboys and cowgirls come in and out of the room in a steady stream. They are seeking minor things like medical tape and bags of ice, and more serious business such as X-rays or even a trip to the hospital.

They come to see Devin Dice and his fellow athletic trainers on the Justin Boots Sportsmedicine Team, and it’s a key operation in a sport with competitors facing the constant threat of injuries, from minor to the career-threatening variety.

“They know that when I’m at a rodeo, they can come see me and they’re going to get taken care of,” says Dice, a 44-year-old from Melba, Idaho. “To me on a personal level, it’s taking care of people. That’s the bottom line.”

Dice is part of a crew of trainers and physical therapists who care for the athletes not just at the NFR, but also on the road throughout the year. The team operates three trucks that pull 30-foot trailers across the country, traveling an estimated 30,000-40,000 miles and hitting 150 rodeos, according to Dice. His duties go beyond athletic training, as he is responsible for driving his own trailer from rodeo to rodeo as well as the maintenance on his truck.

“This pays us, but not enough to make a living,” says Dice, who also operates a demolition company. “That might change in a few years, but we’ll have to see what happens. I have a wife and three children, so I try to spend as much time as I can with them. I don’t really have any hobbies anymore because I’m usually doing this or working.”

Dice says it’s important to build relationships with the athletes. An athlete can duck into his trailer at any point for treatment, advice, or even a quiet place to take a nap. His supplies – including the beer in his fridge -- are free, the costs absorbed by the Justin Boot Company. It’s all part of the package, which also includes some insurance through the PRCA, plus the privately funded Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund that helps cowboys deal with, and pay for, medical treatment.

Dice says he’ll see 15-20 athletes a night at an average rodeo. But at the NFR the operation is much bigger, as a team of trainers occupies a room inside the Thomas and Mack Center and treats an estimated 30-40 men and women before, during and after each competition.

Dice says the biggest difference from other athletes is that the cowboys want to get back into action as soon as possible.

“There’s no workman’s comp in rodeo. Basically if you don’t ride you don’t have a chance to make any money,” he says. “While you might hold out a basketball player for a month, a cowboy you might only suggest 10 days so you can get him going again. It’s a little different in that regard.”