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Bullfighter Jestes plans comeback in August

by Courtesy Brett Marshall | Jun 21, 2019

If Nate Jestes has his way, he will be back doing his full-time job in August.

Perhaps, if things work out, he will be doing so when the Gooding (Idaho) Pro Rodeo’s 94th edition is held Aug. 14-17.

Jestes’ comeback from a devastating and potential career-threatening injury has seen his surgery and follow-up rehabilitation go much faster than doctors originally predicted.

It seems that Jestes’ overall physical talents have helped fast forward his rehab time following the injury he sustained on the opening night of the 2018 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

A professional bullfighter for nearly the last decade, Jestes was one of three who had been voted to work the NFR in 2018. It was during the 13th ride of the first night when the accident resulted in Jestes’ injury.

“I was down low on the hinge side of the gate,” Jestes said recently. “But the bull came out spinning, and as we always do, I tried to get his attention to safeguard the rider. I was trying to get the focus away from the others.”

When the bull first contacted Jestes, the bullfighter landed with his right leg straight. The bull, weighing about 1,800 pounds, continued to charge through Jestes, forcing Jestes’ upper body over the top of his extended straight leg. Wearing knee braces to protect from knee injuries, the hamstring was the only thing to give.

“It separated the hamstring from my pelvis on the right leg,” Jestes said.

“… It tore two of the three hamstrings completely, but honestly at that moment, I had no pain. When I got up off the ground, I thought I just had a charley horse. I picked up my hat, took a long step and because I didn’t have a hamstring to work, my brain’s signal to the leg just didn’t function.”

In the medical world, Jestes said, the brain shuts down if there’s no communication to the body, and it does so to protect the leg. His leg nearly collapsed, and he wobbled to the chute area.

“As soon as I started to try and jog, the leg gave out,” Jestes said. “Eventually I had an MRI, and it just confirmed what the doctor already thought. The tendon stayed attached, but the hamstring was stripped off the muscle.”

Dr. Tandy Freeman, of Justin Sportsmedicine, had never seen such an injury and could not explain how to fix it.

Jestes found Dr. Thomas Youm at New York University Hospital who had experience in surgery to repair the injury. That doctor was, M.D., of NYU Hospital.

“They used an Achilles tendon from a cadaver by drilling a hole in my pelvis and them hammering it into the pelvis,” said Jestes, noting that the repair procedure didn’t take place until the end of January. “They had to pull the hamstring back to properly wrap the Achilles around the hamstring.”

Doctors told Jestes the normal recovery time was six to nine months. But now, four and a half months later, he is back to light jogging. If things go well, he plans to make his comeback debut in August.

At 5-11, 190 pounds, Jestes’ size usually helps him avoid serious injuries, but it didn’t make any difference in the seriousness of his injury.

“It helps to have a solid foundation,” Jestes said. “Usually, if I was smaller and took the kind of hit I did, it would have been much, much worse. I’m pretty sure I would have been flipped around, but I was able to absorb a lot of the bull’s weight because of my physical size. In this case, my size really didn’t help at all.”

The 2018 Wrangler NFR was the third consecutive year Jestes had been voted to work the NFR.

“To get that call, it just solidifies all the hard work you put in,” Jestes said. “I love to fight the bulls, and the NFR is always in the back of your mind. My first year, everything seemed like a blur, with all the emotions and a busy schedule with sponsor signings. The 2017 NFR was one where I could enjoy it a little more.”

Early life

A 2006 graduate of Fort Collins (Colo.) High School, Jestes enrolled at Montana State University in Bozeman, where he planned to study aviation.

He stumbled into bullfighting when he met Al Sandvold while in school and was offered a part-time job. He began to learn the trade from Sandvold, and while he had not been a rodeo contestant in his youth, he always enjoyed rodeos when he watched.

“He (Sandvold) took me to practices at Montana State, and that’s where I started to learn the fundamentals of fighting bulls,” Jestes said.

He remained in Bozeman until 2010, when he moved to Douglas, Wyo., to work for his father, who was a general contractor. It was there that Jestes met his wife, Bridget. The pair have been married three years.

“She’s been nothing short of amazing through this entire ordeal,” Jestes said. “I’m not sure I would be where I am today without her support and the support of other family and friends.”

During 2010, Jestes earned his PRCA card to become a professional bullfighter. His first full year was 2011, and he worked about 20 rodeos his rookie season.

“Now, I’ve been doing more than 100 a year for different contractors,” Jestes said.

Tricks of the Trade

With a background in athletics, Jestes said that some of the fundamentals of being a good bullfighter are learning how to get around a bull.

“You’ve got to learn how to move around a bull and get in what we call the ‘pocket,’ which is around the front shoulder of the bull,” Jestes said. “You’ve got to rotate with your partner where the cowboy falls off the bull and be able to keep the bull’s attention away from the rider. A lot of it is picked up through trial and error.”

His hockey, lacrosse and football fundamentals played a part in his skills as a bullfighter.

“You’ve got to be able to explode out of a still position and be able to cut left and right,” Jestes said. “You’ve got to read the situation because there are so many different situations you can experience. Everything’s happening so fast, there’s no time to think. You just have to learn how to work off reactions.”

Jestes said that working the NFR is unlike any other event.

“It’s not even comparable to anything else,” Jestes said. “You’re indoors and the crowd is noisy like a lot of other indoor rodeos, but it’s just such a different atmosphere. It’s like walking onto sacred ground. You know all of the greats who have been there before, so there are legends and many heroes.”

At the NFR, the bullfighters utilize that three-man rotation, whereas many regular season PRCA rodeos just have two in place.

“The three-man rotation is the best because you’ve got the right, left and high positions all covered,” he said. “You’re constantly reading your partners as to where they are moving, and everyone just kind of reacts to the others. There’s not a lot of talking going on, and you just have to be sure to find a place where you fill in and make sure your area is covered well. We’re all on the same page. I know what they’re doing, and they know what I’m doing. We will have times after a performance to maybe talk about a specific situation we had, and then know how to handle if should it happen again.”

Jestes is at about 80 percent of his previous physical skills and plans to be at around 95 percent by August.

“I’m getting my flexibility and strength back every day and every week,” Jestes said. “It was pretty scary for a while, but I think things are going about as well as I could hope for.”

Brett Marshall is a retired sportswriter who resides in Garden City, Kansas. He has covered the Beef Empire Days PRCA Rodeo for more than a decade. He was the recipient of the 2016 PRCA Pro Rodeo Excellence in Journalism Print Award.


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