Former champ battles West Nile Virus

Mark Garrett, the 1996 world champion bareback rider, isn't immune to the curveballs that life throws everyone.

But in his 38 years of life, Garrett must feel like enough is enough.

On Aug. 19, 2003, Garrett contracted the West Nile Virus, which has swept the country and killed 67 people this year, mostly the elderly. There have been 3,659 cases reported nationwide.

After a week stint at home and another week in the hospital, Garrett is doing a little better but remains weak and out of competition.

"The pain is gone, but he still feels pretty weak," said Garrett's wife, Becky, from the couple's home in Nisland, S.D. "He can't do much; he can't walk around very long or his muscles start to feel rubbery."

Upon becoming ill, Garrett spent a week at home in bed. He started to feel better for a couple of days and his first West Nile Virus test came back negative. Symptoms from the illness resurfaced and Garrett was taken to the hospital in Rapid City, S.D., where he remained for a week.

The West Nile Virus is transmitted from infected mosquitoes and has wreaked havoc the past two summers in the United States.

"We live in a pretty mosquito-infested area because we live where there's a lot of irrigation, so there's a lot of standing water," said Becky, who's a medical transcriptionist.

Making matters worse Garrett contracted meningitis, which is common with cases involving the West Nile.

"There really isn't anything they can do other than pain management," Becky said. "It was really scary. We've been through some pretty serious health issues in rodeo, but never really anything life-threatening. They said his age is in his favor as is his overall good health."

While recovering, Garrett has received dozens of phone calls and visits from his family and friends.

"They said it might take a few months for him to regain all of his strength back," Becky said.

Contracting the West Nile Virus is just one of a handful of scary moments in Garrett's life. In 1998, he was involved in a plane crash in central California that took the life of pilot Johnny Morris. Garrett was en route to the Grand National Rodeo in San Francisco when the plane went down near Lodi, Calif. On board were Garrett, Morris, Garrett's brother, four-time world bareback riding champion Marvin Garrett, and roughstock hands Scott Johnston and Thad Bothwell.

Mark Garrett pulled everyone from the burning wreckage until rescue crews arrived. Morris died a couple of weeks later from injuries sustained in the crash.

A faulty fuel line, it was later determined, caused the accident.

In 2001, Garrett, a nine-time Wrangler NFR qualifier, suffered a torn artery in the back of his neck at RodeoHouston. The injury triggered a mild stroke and further tests revealed that bone fragments in Garrett's neck had affected his spinal cord.

Fortunately, subsequent surgeries to repair the artery and neck went well, and after eight difficult months at home, Garrett cautiously broke back out in January 2002 at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver.

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