Some of the best stories in sports chronicle an athlete’s ability to return from a gruesome injury. First comes the setback, then there’s the comeback as the athlete wills his or her body to heal through hard work and dedication for the sweet reward of redemption.
For instance, NFL quarterback Tom Brady suffered a devastating knee injury in 2008 when he tore both his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial collateral ligament (MCL). He’s since won multiple MVP awards and led the New England Patriots to three NFL championships. NFL running back Adrian Peterson suffered a similar injury in 2011 that some people feared would end his career. Peterson recovered faster than anyone expected and went on to a career-high rushing season the following year.
In most circles, Tyler Waltz might not have the name recognition of a Tom Brady or an Adrian Peterson, but the rodeo star’s road to recovery — which took place at UPMC in the Susquehanna region — is every bit as impressive.
Born and raised in Jersey Shore, Tyler grew up in a rodeo family. Tyler’s father, Dave, is a rodeo veteran, and his mother, Cindy, rode horses competitively, so young Tyler found himself immersed in the culture from birth.
“I was a very active kid,” Tyler says. “Anything that had to do with horses, I was doing. I loved rodeo from a very early age.”
While his friends found their passions in team sports like baseball and football, Tyler never wavered; the rodeo kid became the rodeo teen who competed at the National High School Finals in New Mexico. Soon after, he was off to his dad’s alma mater, the University of Tennessee at Martin, to join the school’s rodeo team on a scholarship.
Though Tyler was accustomed to being injured — in addition to sustaining many bumps and bruises, he broke his right femur while rodeoing in high school — it was at UT Martin where he experienced the injury that caused him to think his rodeo days might be over.
“I blew out my knee at a college rodeo while competing in a steer wrestling event,” Tyler says.
For those who aren’t familiar with the sport, steer wrestling involves a horse-mounted rider chasing a steer, dismounting the horse, hurtling his or her body toward the animal, and literally grabbing the bull by its horns and wrestling it to the ground.
It was during a dismount that Tyler tore his MCL, but the pain in his knee paled in comparison to the hurt he felt when he thought about his future.
“At the time, I thought I might be done rodeoing,” Tyler says. “But the incident actually got me in the gym and made me stronger and better.”
Tyler’s rehabilitation took place with the help of UPMC Williamsport orthopaedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist Patrick Carey, DO. Though it took a few months, Tyler rebounded faster than even he could have imagined, a feat he says was made possible by his religious faith and his trust in UPMC’s medical staff.
“I got my muscles as strong as they were before knee surgery, and I bounced back pretty quickly,” Tyler says. “I made the best of the cards I was dealt.”
During his senior year at UT Martin, Tyler was an integral part of the school’s first national rodeo team title, and he graduated just a few months later with his degree in agriculture business. Now a rodeo professional, Tyler has twice been named World Champion Bareback Rider at the International Professional Rodeo Association (IPRA) finals.
The rodeo kid is now 30 years old, but he still eats, sleeps, and breathes the sport he’s loved his entire life. Even his love life has a connection to rodeo — Tyler is engaged to be married to Bri Dunbar, a fellow rodeo star and World Champion roper. He plans to be a rodeo coach at a university when his full-time rodeo career winds down, whenever that might be.
“I love everything about my life,” Tyler says. “I get to travel and make a living doing what I love.”
But Tyler acknowledges that the life he loves might have been drastically different had it not been for Dr. Carey and the UPMC staff, who helped him regain his rodeo form.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today without them,” he says. “I feel great, and I’m happy to have had the best doctor and team to keep my body healthy.”