A new mobile medical facility made its debut at the Tucson Rodeo over the weekend, and the most talked-about feature was a nifty computer system.
In the past, medical personnel shared information by sending handwritten notes with the injured athletes to the next rodeo, through telephone calls and in some instances, with a text message.
Now, computers and software aboard the trailer allow staff at one rodeo to easily share athletes' medical histories and treatment protocols with medics at an upcoming rodeo elsewhere.
"Technology is awesome when it works right. It's just not cheap," said Mike Rich, head of the Justin Boots sports medicine team, which has provided on-site coverage to the Tucson Rodeo and other events for nearly 30 years.
Rich spent around $500,000 on new trailers, computers and software.
The mobile unit parked at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds, 4823 S. Sixth Ave., for the La Fiesta de los Vaqueros Rodeo is one of three new facilities in use at Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association events.
About 125 PRCA-sponsored rodeos will be held across the nation this year.
Some cowboys are reluctant to receive follow-up care at their next event, but web-based medical information makes it simple for staff to search for injuries that occurred the night before or even 30 days ago, Rich said.
"It's mothering them a little bit without trying to mother them," Rich said of the athletes. "They're an independent bunch."
The addition of technology reflects the commitment Justin Boots Co. has to rodeo athletes, Rich said.
Justin Boots fully funds the program at no cost to the athletes, he said.
X-ray viewing equipment, stimulation machines, treatment tables and medical supplies are housed in the mobile units.
"It's comprehensive - from preventative care to education," Rich said.
He added: "If I can get a guy feeling better before he gets on an animal, he's going to ride better and if you have better rides, you're going to have a better rodeo."
Most injuries can be treated in the trailer, but athletes who suffer serious injuries, such as head trauma, are transported to local hospitals for treatment.
Justin Boots medical facilities couldn't operate without volunteers, Rich said.
Twenty volunteers are working in the mobile unit at this year's Tucson Rodeo.
Trauma nurse LauraLee Morris, of El Paso, helped out Sunday.
She has volunteered at PRCA rodeos for seven years.
Morris grew up around rodeos and donates her time to give back.
"It's like a minivacation," she said. "Some people like to go to the Bahamas. I like to go to rodeos."
Bullfighter, or rodeo clown, Kelly Jennings visited the trailer Sunday, but he wasn't there for medical care this time. He needed a place to apply his makeup.
Jennings did say he stops by the trailer often when he's at rodeos so medical personnel can check out his injured elbow - or just fix him up after a day with the bulls.
"If it wasn't for these guys, we wouldn't survive. They keep us going," he said.