On The Trail with Tyler Waltz
Born and raised in Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, Tyler Waltz was the oddball through high school, focusing on rodeo instead of other sports. “I grew up […]
by Holly Wilson
After a freak accident, high school junior Tatum Schafer had to overcome many obstacles to get back in the saddle.
Tatum Schafer, a resident of San Tan Valley and member of the Arizona High School Rodeo Association, has been an avid horseback rider her entire life. An all-around cowgirl, Tatum competes in barrel racing, pole-bending, breakaway roping, goat-tying and cutting.
Her father has team roped for the past 30 years, and rodeo is all she’s ever known.
However, after a freak accident on October 27, 2015, Tatum would have to call upon her passion to survive.
“When we got to the hospital, they told us it wasn’t good. It wasn’t what we expected at all,” Kerri said, “The paramedics had told my husband at that time that it was a pretty serious head wound, one of the most serious they’d ever seen.”
This was caused by blunt force trauma when Tatum was ejected from the running board of her friend’s truck. The fall fractured the hardest part of her skull, and left with her with a hematoma, a skull fracture on her forehead and a skull fracture on her left temporal.
“She had ruptured her ear canal, and her head and hair were completely covered in blood. That’s probably the only thing that saved her life,” Kerri said, “With a laceration in her ear canal, it released the pressure on her brain and allowed it to relieve itself.”
Tatum was lucky to have survived the first 48 hours. And even then, it was a miracle that she survived the first 72.
As a result of the accident, Tatum lost her hearing in her right ear, lost her taste and sense of smell, dislocated her ear, suffers from an unbalanced equilibrium, lives with chronic headaches and has trouble with short-term memory loss.
“She was told that she’d never be able to ride again,” Kerri said, “She had a neurosurgeon, and we worked with that team.”
They agreed to let Tatum ride again, but only if she wore a helmet. She underwent a conditioning program, just like any other athlete, and in March of this year she began competing again.
“It’s the only passion she’s ever had. Everything else was taken away from her,” Kerri said.
Tatum has overcome many obstacles in the last year, but doesn’t let them get the best of her.
“At times it has been frustrating, but my friends and family that I have standing by my side have been giving me confidence and pushing me to keep trying when I felt like quitting,” Tatum said, “There were many challenges [when I started riding again], but the hardest obstacle was learning to compensate for my loss of balance. It involves many long practices and determination to strive to continuously do better.”
Although she has made progress, Tatum still deals with anxiety and chronic headaches as a result of the brain damage. On top of that, Kerri explained that Tatum blacks out during times of high brain activity. “At State Finals in June, because of the anxiety and brain stimulation, she kept passing out and blacking out,” Kerri said, “She does not remember one run at State Finals. The last thing she remembers in breakaway is backing into the box. She doesn’t remember any of it.”
Yet, through every hard time, Tatum has had a large support system behind her every step of the way.
“My mom has been the most supportive through my recovery and I could not thank her enough,” Tatum said, “She has sat in every waiting room, every doctor’s appointment, been there for me through all the good and bad news, and most of all supported me and helped me accomplish all my goals.”
“I could also not be more thankful for the support that the rest of my family has given, especially my sister, Hailey, for pushing me to get back to where I was and helping me in every way possible,” Tatum said, “The love and support from all the families in the Arizona High School Rodeo Association has been incredible and I couldn’t have done it without all these people standing behind me and pushing me to be the best I can be.”
The support that Tatum receives has enabled her to dream big.
“My rodeo goals are to make it to High School Nationals [for] a 6th time in multiple events and be the best I can be in and out of the arena,” Tatum said, “My main goal is to get back to where I was before my accident and continuously be more successful.”
Kerri describes her daughter as passionate and determined to make her life better, despite her circumstances.
“She’s a fighter. She’s passionate about making her life better, making a difference and making it better for her. She wants to show anybody that, if you have a life-threatening injury, you can turn it around,” Kerri said, “She shouldn’t have made it through what she did, but she has a passion and determination for life. I’m not sure if I would use passionate or a living miracle, because that’s what she is.”
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