Cody Devers walked in to the Thomas & Mack Center in late November, he felt that adrenaline rush that every first-timer experiences when he arrives in Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo.
He’d done everything he could to prepare for his moment on ProRodeo’s biggest stage. Truth be told, a lot of NFR veterans feel that rush every time they meander through the yellow Priefert gates and onto the dirt, but there’s nothing quite like that first time.
He looked around the arena, taking in all that he could. A cowboy never knows when he might return to this championship, so he may as well take in all the sights, sounds and smells he could. He’d earned the right to be there, and, by God, nothing was going to stop him from making steer wrestling runs inside that legendary building.
On opening night, he rode into the arena during the grand entry, tipping his cap along with the others to acknowledge the rambunctious crowd and its support of the cowboys on parade. Twenty-five minutes later, he nodded his head to make
his first run at his first NFR. Within seconds, he knew he was in for trouble.
“Whenever I dropped in the hole (between his bulldogging horse and the steer), my pec felt tight and when I grabbed the steer’s head, everything was perfect,” said Devers, 26, of Perryton, Texas. “Right as I was about to go forward to the nose, I felt it pop. Even as loud as the Thomas & Mack is, I still think I heard it.”
Let’s back up about a month, because that’s when everything went south at the Cooks Days Rodeo in Lubbock, Texas. He partially tore the muscle during a run. He didn’t get to finish the rodeo, and he started his rehab assignment in order to be ready for the NFR. Apparently, there was more to his injury.
The pop was his first indication of trouble. The pain was his second.
“It was a pretty intense pain,” said Devers, a Cinch endorsee who attended both Garden City (Kansas) Community College and Northwestern Oklahoma State University on rodeo scholarships. “I went into the Justin Sportsmedicine room, and (Dr.) Tandy (Freeman) evaluated it and told me that it was, for sure, a torn pec.”
Despite the pain, despite the difficulty mounting his horse, despite the inability to properly lift the rein with his right hand, much less grab a steer’s horn, Devers pressed on. He turned in times in Rounds 2 and 3, then was unable to even throw his steers on Nights 4 and 5. His mind and his heart told him to continue; his body told him to stop.
He finished his 2021 season after his fifth-round run at the NFR, one that saw him so limited by measures set to protect him and his damaged chest. The Justin Sportsmedicine team tried to tape his right harm in a way to allow him to compete. Devers still had difficulty making anything work. Dressed in a bright-pink Cinch shirt to honor cancer awareness on Pink Night at the NFR, he tried to lunge for his steer but didn’t have the capacity to even reach for the animal.
“I’d worked so hard to get there, and it’s been one of my life’s goals to compete at the NFR,” he said. “I also didn’t want a torn muscle or a torn tendon to hold me back. If I think I could compete, I was going to try.
“What made the decision for me was not being able to get the start I needed. The Thomas-&-Mack start is so fast, and it’s hard even if I’m healthy. I couldn’t physically put my hand up enough to cue my horse to get the start we needed. I was behind every run. It’s got to be a perfect go for me to catch a steer, I realized without getting a good start, I wasn’t going to be able to have a perfect go.”
Still, he proved to be one of the toughest competitors, if not the toughest, at the 2021 NFR. He couldn’t sleep because of the pain, and he still found his way into the saddle every night knowing full well he was in for a world of hurt when he dismounted a fast-moving horse onto a running steer.
He arrived in Las Vegas 11th in the world standings with $67,715, and all he earned at the NFR was the $10,000 every contestant pocketed for qualifying. His dreams of a big Las Vegas jackpot drifted away with his chest, right shoulder and right arm thumping in pain.
Devers had surgery Jan. 3, by Dr. Chris Miller of the Kansas Orthopedic Center in Wichita, Kansas. During the process, Miller drilled a hole into bone and attached a suture anchor, which was then sewn to the tendon. He had a checkup nine days after surgery, and all looks to be healing well in the early stages.
“We’re shooting for five months after surgery, which would be the first of June before I’d be ready to go,” Devers said. “I’d like to maybe start back at North Platte (Nebraska) or Reno (Nevada). If possible, I’d like to go to Woodward (Oklahoma).”
Woodward, which is scheduled for June 9-12, is about 100 miles from his family’s home north of Perryton, so that would be a great place to make his return to the sport he loves and, even in pain, already misses.
“It is nice being home a little bit; I just wish I could do more,” he said. “I’m dang sure missing it. I love these winter rodeos. There are quite a few in Texas that aren’t very far from me. I like going down to those, camping out for a couple days, seeing everybody and easing around.
“It’s a lot different than the summer when you’re constantly going, running at two rodeos in the same day, driving all night to get to the next one.”
That’s what Devers will face by the time his rehabilitation is complete and it’s time to hit the road in a few months. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
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