Knee injury hasn’t slowed down the clown, one of the funniest men in rodeo

Deep down, Justin Rumford is a cowboy, and he’s not about to let a knee injury slow him down much – even if it was a severe knee injury.

In fact, he will return to this year’s Rooftop Rodeo, set for 7 p.m. Monday, July 8-Saturday, July 13, at Granny May Arena inside the Estes Park Fairgrounds. But that’s what being a clown is all about for Rumford.

“We’re bringing Justin back because he’s the fans’ favorite every time he’s here,” said Mark Purdy, chairman of Estes Park Western Heritage Inc., a group of volunteers that works with the town of Estes Park to produce the annual rodeo. “He’s funny, engaging and makes our rodeo better just because he’s here.”

Rumford was injured in January at the National Western Stock Show in Denver. He worked the next week in Rapid City, South Dakota, then found out just how bad the injury was. He suffered three ligament tears – ACL, MCL and PCL – a broken tibia and a double meniscus tear, so he had surgery Feb. 7.

He returned to the arena six months after, and he hasn’t looked back since.

“I’ve been doing all the therapy and the rehab, and by Aug. 1, I should be about 90 percent,” said Rumford, the six-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Clown of the Year. “I can still do everything I normally do except for some of the acts or work the barrel. For the most part, I can do about 95 percent of everything I did before.”

That’s a good thing for rodeo fans in Estes Park. As he continues to heal, he continues to be the vibrant personality that has been his gift all his life. Raised in south-central Kansas to a rodeo family, Rumford has been around the game since the day he was born.

He is a third-generation stock contractor. Rodeo is in his blood. He’s roped and bulldogged; he’s ridden broncs and fought bulls; he’s even driven the semi-tractor trailers that haul prized steeds.

Now he’s living a dream.

“This clowning deal is the best thing I’ve ever had,” said Rumford, who lives Ponca City, Oklahoma, with his wife, Ashley, and their triplets, Livi, Lola and Bandy. “It’s something in rodeo that I can have a lot of longevity in. There’s not just a ton of risk, and it’s something I enjoy so much.”

Now he’s the preeminent funnyman in professional rodeo, just as his awards describe. He’s a comedian by nature, something he shared through every level of rodeo on which he’s performed. Whether he’s entertaining a crowd or sharing stories after the performances end, he is the life of the party.

“People want to laugh at each other more than they want to laugh at something,” Rumford said. “When I’m in the arena, I’m saying the same stuff I’d say if I wasn’t clowning.

“It’s just me being me.”

That’s why people in Estes Park like having him around, and the feeling is reciprocated.

“That’s just a beautiful location,” he said. “It’s a great committee with awesome hospitality; it’s an awesome town, and it’s got a park right across the arena for the kids. Estes Park is just a fun place to be.”

That’s one of the reasons contestants have considered Rooftop Rodeo one of the very best in the country, but there are other reasons. The volunteers on the committee come together every year to not only put on a great community event but to also cater to the athletes who make rodeo so great.

“I think a big part of why people like coming to Estes Park is the way the contestants are treated,” Rumford said. “There are free stalls, and in the hospitality building, they’ve got a huge corner for kids that has a bunch of toys.

“The money’s great for the contestants, and everybody on the committee treats you like family. They have a ton of 50-amp RV hookups for contestants, and after a busy Fourth of July, it’s nice to pull in somewhere like Estes Park and just plug into one of those outlets and just relax.”

That down time is critical for the cowboys and cowgirls who make their living traveling hundreds of miles in a given day just to compete. It also allows them to perform at an optimum level when the time comes.

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