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November 20, 2008 4:02 am

Kanin Asay opts for extra safety

Written by Tribune Staff

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Powell's Kanin Asay competes in the recent Wrangler ProRodeo Tour Championship in Dallas. Like he has done since sustaining head injuries during a bull riding event in July, Asay donned a helmet in attempt to reduce his injury risk. Courtesy photo/Dan Hubbell

Powell bull rider now among helmet-wearing competitors

When Kanin Asay sustained extensive injuries during a bull riding competition in Oregon last July, he lost his spleen and sustained a concussion, a broken rib, facial fractures, a torn ear and a number of other cuts and bruises.

When Asay's parents and girlfriend arrived at Oregon Health and Science University where the Powell bull rider underwent surgery for his injuries, he was in a hospital bed and looked far different from what they were used to seeing.

“I had tubes in me, my left eye was purple and swelled shut — it was pretty bad,” Asay said.

The incident was a grim reminder of the age-old phrase “If you're going to rodeo, you're going to get hurt.”

Also read about Kaleb, Kanin's brother, here.

Fortunately for Asay, he survived the ordeal. In fact, he recovered from his injuries and was competing again after only a two-month absence from the sport he loves.

Asay, as he rode more, regained the confidence he had prior to that disastrous ride. However, those who follow Asay's career closely, noticed immediately that last year's second-place finisher in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world standings was using a different approach. The difference — a helmet with a protective facemask instead of a traditional cowboy hat. Though not required by the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, helmets with protective facemasks are becoming more common in rodeo arenas.

The helmets used by rodeo competitors resemble those worn by hockey players. However, there isn't a helmet specifically designed for bull riding or other rodeo events in which head injuries are common, said Don Andrews, executive director and co-founder of the Justin Sports Medicine Team.

Though not designed for rodeo events, the helmets currently in use do offer some protection against injury, Andrews said. However, in a sport where animals weighing almost a ton could land on or collide with a human, Andrews said there are no guarantees of escaping injury no matter what precautions are taken. But when it comes to head injuries, the most common injuries in bull riding, some protection is better than nothing at all.

“The unprotected head takes quite a beating,” Andrews said. “By wearing a helmet, there's a much better chance for facial and cranial injuries to be lessened.”

Asay backed up that statement by using a number of his rides as examples.

“For me, it always seems like I'm getting hit in the face,” Asay said. “By wearing a helmet, I've got a higher level of comfort. If I get hit in the face, it's less likely that I'm going to get knocked out and I've got a better chance to recover.”

Asay, during the rodeo in which he sustained multiple injuries earlier this year, said the ride started to go bad after his head collided with the bull's. A subsequent hit knocked out Asay and from that point, he was dragged and stepped on by the bull.

“If I had been wearing a helmet, there's a good chance it wouldn't have happened,” Asay added.

Andrews said less than 50 percent of bull riders wear helmets. However, he said more competitors are opting to wear them. As that number increases, he believes helmet usage will become more common.

“In the next five years, you'll see more than half of the competitors wearing (helmets),” Andrews said. “Once it gets to 51 percent, you'll see an exponential increase in helmet usage.”

Andrews said as more professionals choose to wear protective head gear, there will be an increase of similar usage in young bull riders. He said a youth hockey helmet with a mask costs in the neighborhood of $75. For an adult version, the cost is around $125. He said a helmet designed specifically for bull riding will one day be a reality, but for now the production cost for such an item would be upward of $5,000, which is out of range for the majority of competitors.

Until such a helmet is put into production, Andrews hopes more rodeo competitors will take advantage of the options available to them.

“Some riders don't want to wear them because they aren't used to how it feels,” Andrews said. “If they start out wearing a helmet when they're young, they don't have anything else to compare it to.”

As for Asay, he's glad he endured the transition period of getting used to a helmet as opposed to a cowboy hat.

“It's different,” Asay added. “But like Terry Don West (two-time PRCA world champion bull rider) said, your career will probably last a lot longer if you wear one.”