The rigors of the rugged 10 nights of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo can take their toll on the athletes involved.
From sore muscles and strains to broken bones and torn ligament, folks who walk away from ProRodeo’s championship event without the gold buckles given to world championships tend to feel every ache, every pain.
D.V. Fennell is no different.
“To be quite honest with you, I got the tar beat out of me,” said Fennell, 37, of Neosho, Mo., who earned his spot at the NFR by finishing the season among the top 15 bareback riders in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. “Every time you get on a bareback horse, it’s a fistfight. In Vegas, I kept punching back, but those horses got the better of me.”
The end result for Fennell was a pinched nerve that was aggravated almost every night of the competition. If that wasn’t enough, the Utah-born, Oklahoma-raised cowboy suffered torn ligaments in his right hand when he was bucked off in the final go-round and his hand remained in the rigging, which was strapped tightly to the animal, for several seconds.
“I had to have an MRI done on my neck and back to make sure I didn’t need surgery, so knowing I won’t have to go through that was good news,” he said. “My hand still hurts, but it’s a lot better. It’s just going to take a little time.”
That means time away from the rodeo arena, where Fennell makes his living. Unlike many other professional sports where salaries are guaranteed, cowboys can’t earn money unless they compete – and unless they finish better than most and place high enough to finish in the money. Fennell hopes his hand returns to riding shape so he can return to competition in February.
“It can be really tough on you and your family when you can’t compete, but that’s the great thing about having guys who believe in you,” said Fennell, pointing out that his relationship with State Farm Insurance agents in southwest Missouri has benefited his rodeo career. “I’m pretty tickled to have that relationship with State Farm.
“Eric Norris has been with me for a long time, and he’s right here in my hometown of Neosho. But it’s nice to know Matt Davidson in Lamar (Mo.) believes in what we’re doing, too. Having guys like that in your corner gives a guy the confidence to keep getting in those fistfights all year.”
Fennell has qualified for the NFR each of the past two seasons. The wily veteran utilizes his experience and his understanding of ProRodeo to excel in the game, which isn’t for the weak of heart – how else can Fennell explain his hunger while still recovering from injuries sustained a month ago?
“I’m living my dream,” he said. “The ultimate goal is, as always, to win the world title, and I expect to win it this year. I’ll do everything I can to do it.”