Cooper Martin burst onto the tie-down roping scene and roped at his first of three consecutive National Finals Rodeos in 2017 at the age of 20.
After his third trip in 2019, like so many others, he took a “COVID year.”
“I had nothing really won in the winter and had nothing to really go to. It was kind of a shithouse year for everybody rodeoing, so I sat 2020 out,” said Martin, an Alma, Kansas native, who now lives in Salado, Texas with his wife, Samantha (who were married on October 18, 2020).
Fast forward to 2021, and Martin was back. He rolled through the winter, racking up checks and setting himself up to return to the NFR for a fourth time. On June 1 of that year, that hope was shattered.
“I had $35,000 won, the most I’d ever had in the wintertime. I was practicing at Mark Atkinson’s house in Houston, and I got a coil wrapped around my elbow in my triceps area, and back over the top of my right arm when it came tight. I tore two ligaments in my wrist, and they said it was major, requiring surgery right away. They were supposed to put two pins in and ended up putting in six,” said Martin, who had his first surgery on June 15. “I went back the next day to rewrap my splint, and the doctor wasn’t there so the nurses patched me up. I was in severe pain, but they said that was to be expected. I knew it would be painful, but I lost my voice screaming from this pain.”
Thankfully, about a week post-op, a surgeon friend of Cooper’s from Florida called to check on him.
“We got to talking about sensations, and my fingers were completely numb. He said I needed to go in right away for a nerve test,” said Martin, who turned 25 in May. “I went in and had a one-inch compression of my carpal nerve (which provides sensory and motor functions to the thumb and three middle fingers). Two days later, they performed nerve surgery.”
Now, with a four-inch incision on the top of his roping hand, and a six-inch one on the bottom of his wrist, insert a third surgery.
“About a month later, they performed a carpal tunnel release. That was the craziest thing I’ve ever been through. It melted all my skin off, to the point where I didn’t have fingerprints. Until December of that year, I couldn’t feel any heat or cold with my right thumb, index and middle finger. I was numb from the wrist up,” said Martin, who dropped from 200 pounds to about 168 pounds from his first surgery to his third. “We started marking where I had sensation to on my hand from the wrist to my fingertips with a Sharpie and the sensation grew about an inch per month. It isn’t likely I’ll ever have 100% of my sensation back, but they’re hopeful it’ll reach 75-90%.”
In September of 2021, Martin had enough money won to qualify for the Texas Circuit Finals Rodeo but didn’t have his rodeo count. He entered five rodeos, got one calf tied down and quickly realized he needed more rehab.
His first legitimate return to the arena was for his circuit finals, held in January 2022. By the time San Antonio rolled around, he’d been roping and religiously rehabbing for months and felt like he was sharp. He parlayed that into $17,000 out of San Antonio this year, before kicking off his spring run by winning Red Bluff.
Martin’s 2022 earnings of $101,391, which has never not been enough to qualify for the NFR in the tie-down roping, left him less than $600 out of the top 15. In the grand scheme of things, was Martin devastated? Nope.
“I didn’t make the NFR and thank God I didn’t. The whole time from the initial injury, I had a bone chip on the right side of my wrist floating. I was in quite a bit of pain last spring but had the carpal joint on the right side injected around the bone chips and I had feeling,” Martin said. “When I got home this fall and the adrenaline had worn off, it was so sore. When I had it checked out, the cartilage (Triangular FibroCartilage Complex) that holds the two forearm bones together was 60% torn. Another surgery was inevitable and if I would have made the NFR, I would have had to make the choice to try to rope and risk tearing it all the way or turn out and have surgery. That would have been the hardest decision I would’ve had to ever make to skip the NFR, because as cowboys we can’t even imagine that. It’s hard to see God’s plan, but in hindsight it worked out.”
So this November, Martin had his fourth surgery since we have seen him at the Thomas & Mack Center on the University of Nevada-Las Vegas campus. But with a 10-week recovery, he’s tickled pink to have it behind him and looking forward to 2023.
Oh, and though he finished 16th and will be at home rehabbing, he’ll be tuned in to this year’s NFR like the rest of us. And like the rest of us rodeo fans at home, he’s got his pick in this year’s field of tie-down ropers.
“I’m going with Caleb Smidt. Everybody is a contender, but he’s tough to beat. It’s like roping against Trevor (Brazile), he’s going to go down as one of the greatest ever. He was my pick last year, and he’s my pick this year,” Martin said.