Jake Barnes was in the middle of one of the best team roping runs of his life when his thumb — and career — flashed before his eyes with one jerk of the rope.
Well, sort of.
"Actually, I didn't see the thumb. I saw the ligaments flying in front of me," Barnes said.
"I knew something had happened, but I didn't know if I had lost one finger or all five."
Barnes' right thumb was severed at the knuckle as he tried a risky roping move during the fifth round of the National Finals Rodeo on Dec. 7. Six inches of ligament and muscle flew across Las Vegas' Thomas & Mack Center like coil snakes from a gag peanut brittle can.
Ten weeks later, Barnes is at La Fiesta de los Vaqueros trying revive his career. He reworked his grip after doctors were unable to reattach his thumb.
"I've been competing almost a month now," he said. "I didn't know how long I was going to be out. The doctor said it would be anywhere from three months to six months to a year before I could do this.
"I'm not even supposed to be roping."
Barnes, a seven-time world champion who has won $1.6 million in his career, is lucky to be competing at all.
Following the accident, doctors grafted what was left of his thumb to his chest cavity in an attempt to regrow vital skin. The procedure left Barnes unable to use his right arm for nearly a month.
Once Barnes' thumb was detached from his chest in January, doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix discovered dangerous blood clots. A one-day hospital stay turned into seven as doctors treated Barnes' thumb with leeches.
"Hey, some doctors use maggots on flesh. I wouldn't have liked that," he said. "(Leeches) weren't bad. With doctors, you don't question what they do."
To make matters worse, Barnes, 46, discovered he had injured his shoulder when his thumb jerked away from his body. He is currently trying to treat it with acupuncture and therapy.
Despite the injuries, Barnes — who lives on a ranch outside Phoenix with his wife and five children — has been slowly getting back into roping.
He traveled to Yuma and San Angelo, Texas, before coming to Tucson for Monday's slack events. He took part in Wednesday's Mike Cervi Jr. Memorial Team Roping event at Tucson Rodeo Grounds, and will be competing in this weekend's rodeo.
Still, Barnes admits there are times he misses being at home with his family. If there was one positive surrounding his injury, it was that he was able to watch his son's basketball games and catch up with his daughters.
"I have a love-hate relationship with rodeo," he said. "I think I can do this forever, and it's just been a lifestyle for me. On the same side, there's so much travel — 60 rodeos a year — and so much time away from your family.
"I love it, but I want to be home more."
● Tucsonan Cesar De La Cruz continues to make a name for himself in team roping. The 22-year-old paired with Shane Sproul to win the team roping event on Wednesday with a score on 34.59 on five head.
Sproul and de la Cruz won $17,220 each.
● Pro rodeo competition will continue today after three days of timed events at the rodeo grounds. Mutton Bustin' and the Justin Junior Rodeo begin at 1 p.m., with the rodeo program scheduled to start at 2.
On StarNet: Check StarNet archives for slide shows and videos of past rodeo fun