Learning The Ropes....Again!
by Allison Morgan, Tennessee Farmers Cooperative
Chuck Jenkins is no ordinary roper.
Since entering the rodeo circuit in 1994, this talented young man from McNairy County has continually earned award after award, including saddles, belt buckles, and cash prizes. Just this past March, the 21-year-old earned his highest reward yet when he brought home top honors and a 2001 Dodge Ram pickup truck from a roping competition in Oklahoma.
But what makes Chuck's accomplishments so astounding is the fact that he has been partially paralyzed from the waist down since 1998.
Just a few months away from his high school graduation, Chuck sustained his crippling injuries in a two-car accident in March 1998 while he was returning home from a rodeo event. His truck was struck head-on near Selmer by another vehicle, the driver of which apparently went to sleep at the wheel. That driver and a passenger were killed instantly. Chuck, who was alone, survived, but his family was warned from the start that his injuries were very critical.
Airlifted to "The Med," the Regional Medical Center in Memphis, Chuck underwent seven surgeries in three days. Doctors told his mother, Regina Plunk, not to hold out much hope that he would make it.
"For about five days, they didn't even know if I would live," says Chuck.
Chuck stayed in the hospital for 31 days and says he only remembers the last six. During this time, he was incapable of any movement from the waist down and had a steel rod inserted to attach his spine to his pelvis.
"The doctors told me it was one of the worst pelvic injuries they had ever seen," says Chuck.
After leaving the hospital, Chuck spent more than a year in rehabilitation, learning how to adjust to his injury. Before the accident, he weighed 185 pounds. When he left the hospital, he weighed only 123. He was confined to a wheelchair, and doctors doubted that he'd ever walk again. Chuck was more worried that he'd never be able to rope again.
Before his injury, Chuck had hopes of making his living on the professional rodeo circuit. He had joined the rodeo team at McNairy Central High School when he was a sophomore and quickly proved that he had a natural ability in the rodeo arena. Not only did he earn numerous awards, but his outstanding performances also caught the attention of big-name rodeo sponsors like Wrangler.
Even though the accident halted Chuck's dream of a rodeo career, he wouldn't let it douse his sheer love for the sport. Determined to compete on the rodeo circuit again, Chuck worked hard to get back in the saddle. Though he says it's been a long road to recovery, he's overcome all the odds to continue to do what he loves best roping.
"I told my mom from the very beginning that I was going to try my best to rope again," says Chuck. "It's been hard getting back, but I couldn't imagine my life without the rodeo."
Before he could even attempt to resume roping, Chuck had to make a few changes. A special saddle he had made has a high back and Velcro straps that go around his waist and across his legs to hold him in place. Because he could no longer use his legs like he once did, he had to alter the way he roped.
"I had to learn to rope differently because I can't stand up in the saddle," explains Chuck. "I was a little skittish at first because I couldn't use my legs like I used to, but I just had to learn a different way of doing things."
Since he could no longer compete in any event that required dismounting the horse, Chuck began honing his heading and heeling skills to compete in team roping events. He sold four of his six Quarter horses since he no longer needed the ones that he rode in bull- and calf-roping competitions.
It was a year and a half before Chuck was ready to rodeo again. His first competition after the accident was in August 1999 at an International Rodeo Association event in Somerville. It was a successful return to the rodeo circuit, and Chuck now goes to 20 to 25 competitions a year.
Since he resumed roping, Chuck has continually shown that his talent can overcome tragedy. His extraordinary skills were proven on March 17 of this year when he garnered a first-place showing at the Booger Barter Team Roping competition in Guthrie, Okla. His prizes were a belt buckle, $500, and a 2001 Dodge Ram dually pickup truck.
"I was just on Cloud 9 when I found out Chuck had won," says his mother. "I'm prouder of him now than I've ever been because he has to try so much harder in everything he does. He's come such a long way."
Chuck, who was heeling during the event, had to hit on 12 straight tries with 12 different partners to advance. He made it to the last three rounds and eventually beat out the more than 1,800 other competitors by roping two steers in only 11.5 seconds.
"In rodeo, it doesn't matter who you are just how lucky and how good you are," says Chuck, a customer of McNairy Farmers Cooperative. "You have good days and bad days, but when you're on, it's hard for anybody to beat you. I was just really on' that day."
Despite the odds, Chuck is now recovering so well from his paralysis that he can actually walk for limited distances and drive his truck with its regular controls. He still has no movement from the knees down, but he says he's doing better than anyone ever expected.
"They tell me in rehab that they don't know how I do what I do," says Chuck. "I can walk pretty well with a walker, but if I need to get around fast, I have to use my wheelchair. I can get someplace three times quicker if I'm in the chair."
Chuck credits the exercise he receives in practicing for and competing in rodeos with helping him recover from his injuries.
"I've been told that the horses help in the rehabilitation process," he says. "They help you move muscles you don't normally use."
Chuck says he always knew that someday he'd be roping again and has his sights set on making it to the International Rodeo Association Finals, a prestigious event open only to top performers. These days, Chuck stays busy attending about two rodeos a month, and he doesn't dwell on the accident that almost took his life as well as his rodeo career. That's all in the past, he says, and he's looking only to the future.
"I can still do anything I want I just have to do it a little differently," says Chuck. "The main thing is I can still rope."
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