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NMSU faculty member saddles up with rodeo team research

A New Mexico State University professor and athletic training program director is working to help prevent common head injuries for NMSU rodeo athletes, especially those involved in rodeo events where the competitors can be thrown from animals.



Mikaela Boham, human performance professor and athletics trainer, stations herself next to the NMSU rodeo practice arena in order to collect data transmitted by remote censors worn by rodeo athletes during practice bronco rides. (NMSU photo by Darren Phillips)

Mikaela Boham, NMSU Athletic Training Education Program director and professor for the Department of Human Performance, Dance and Recreation, said she grew up around rodeo, and her interest in the sport increased while working in the athletic training program.

Real-time concussion analyses, where the impact the concussion has on the athlete is examined, have been conducted in football and other sports in which the athletes engage in high impact activity. However, very few such analyses currently exist for rodeo sports, Boham said. Athletes involved in rough stock events, including bull riding, saddle bronc and bareback, often take falls and experience concussions. She wants to analyze how the brain trauma of a concussion affects the athlete's cognitive skills.

"One of the reasons I like working with this population is because they are so grateful, and they have been an ignored population for such a long time," she said. "Finding some way to make an impact on this type of population is its own reward."

Kim O'Connell-Brock, assistant director of the Athletic Training Program, is also working with Boham on the project. The research includes figuring out how many of the approximately 135 college rodeo teams nationwide provide regular health care services to their athletes.

"Rodeo athletes are an extremely underserved population as far as medical care," Boham said. "Most other athletics teams on campus have athletic trainers and other direct access to medical care. We want to document how many rodeo programs actually have these services." NMSU is one of the few rodeo teams to contract services with a certified athletic trainer to care for its participants at no cost to the athletes.

In the future, Boham hopes to use the research to come up with a helmet design for rodeo athletes. Boham said there are very few helmets on the market, and most are not approved for bull riding. Also, rodeo athletes in the rough stock events are not required to wear a helmet if they are 18 or older.

"These guys get tossed around a lot, and the animals are so powerful," she said, "So, we want to eventually come up with some equipment that will help prevent injury and extend the rider's career."

Boham said the next step will be to collect baseline concussion analysis data from rough stock competitors on the NMSU rodeo team. She will use a concussion software system to monitor the athletes.

Boham said the study works best with college students, and she is grateful to have the opportunity to work with them. Rodeo athletes can compete up to five years in the college circuit. Many college athletes are also in the same age group as professional rodeo athletes, and college athletes can ride on the professional circuit at the same time, Boham said.

"It's a good way to establish what's going on with college athletes and apply it to the professional level as well," she said. "It's difficult to get data on the pros because they are so mobile."

The research also benefits the athletes, because they can track their medical information online, Boham said. Boham said because rodeo athletes often compete for money, they sometimes compete with injuries and travel long distances, making them more at risk.

"We want to make the sport safer and focus on getting the athletes quality medical coverage," she said. "Hopefully this research will shine light on a sport that has been overlooked in the past and needs that medical recognition."