This is a piece I wrote for my church five years ago. You can tell it’s dated a little, but the message it tells is one of faith, something that my friend holds tight each day of his life.
The life of a rodeo cowboy can change at the drop of a 10-gallon hat.
Cord McCoy knows that better than most anyone, and his faith in Jesus Christ has carried him through the roller coaster that has been his life in the last year.
Just last fall, you see, McCoy wasn’t sure what his future would hold. He had suffered a severe head injury after being kicked above his left ear by a saddle bronc at the Oklahoma State Fair Rodeo.
Surgery, intensive care, months of rehabilitation.
“I didn’t know what it was going to be like, even the littlest things like walking,” said McCoy, a 25-year-old cowboy who has spent his professional life on the backs of bareback horses, saddle broncs and bulls. “The more I walked, the better I was at it. I didn’t know how much the improvement was going to be or what it was going to be like, but I know this: Getting up and walking was real weird at first.”
With each step, his faith was tested. With each exercise, he wondered what his future held. Would he ever ride again? Would he be the same ol’ Cord?
“This has made me realize how thankful I am, not only to be riding, but to be alive,” said McCoy, a five-time champion in the Oklahoma City-based International Professional Rodeo Association (two all-around titles, two saddle-bronc titles and a bull-riding championship).
Last December, he was in the stands of the Thomas & Mack Center for the final round of the National Finals Rodeo. He saw one incredible performance after another. He was with a friend, and they were having the times of their lives.
Cord McCoy was also dreaming. What if he could someday compete in that same arena? What if he could be recognized as one of the best hands in rodeo? What if?
He prayed often and held strong faith in his own abilities to heal, his own abilities to ride and in God Almighty.
Fast-forward to December 2005. Cord McCoy is back in Las Vegas for the National Finals Rodeo. This time, though, he’s the 12th best bull rider in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the top sanctioning body in the sport. The NFR features the top 15 contestants in each event. It is ProRodeo’s grand finale. Ten go-rounds. Round winners earning more than $15,000.
The dream came true. Prayers were answered.
But that transition hasn’t been easy. When you have to re-learn basic cognitive skills, re-learning the skill to ride ferocious bucking animals won’t be simple.
“I’d put that little old helmet on, and I’d start walking horses around,” McCoy said. “About a month before I went to the doctor to see about being released to compete again, I started getting on horses bareback to get my balance ready to ride bulls. I went to ride him across the pasture, and I almost fell off several times.
“Now this is something I’ve done all my life, and I couldn’t do it. You would’ve thought this guy would never be a bull rider. I had to take the horse up and set him in a little bitty pen that we have set up for kids just so I could do it.”
And that was before doctors gave him clearance to compete again. Until he heard the words, though, there was serious doubt about his rodeo career. His injury, after all, wasn’t a simple concussion. He needed months for his injury to heal – the crack in his skull was circular, and the bone indented inward putting pressure on his brain. Surgeons repaired the malady, but at least eight months off would give the bone time to heal. Still, there was an outside chance he would never ride bucking animals again.
He prayed for God’s healing power. He prayed for strength. He prayed for just one more chance.
Time away from the rodeo arena – even his seat at last year’s NFR – not only helped McCoy’s body heal, it also ignited a desire to compete at a high level. He wanted to test his mettle against the big boys in the PRCA and the PBR.
“I think it all fed off my spirituality,” he said. “It was tough starting back, because as far as trusting yourself and your reaction and also trusting in God … that was something I had to just turn over to God.
“This is what I’m going to try to do, and if this is what’s out there for me, it’ll happen. I just leave the reins to Him and let Him guide me.”
Armed with a new lacrosse-style helmet to protect his noggin, McCoy returned to the rodeo arena in April. And while he rode rank bulls, he wasn’t getting to the pay window. Rodeo cowboys not only pay their bills by what they earn in competition, it’s also how points are kept toward a world championship.
At season’s end, the top 15 money-winners in each event qualify for the NFR.
Also keep in mind that McCoy had given the rest of the field a four-month head start. By April, several cowboys had earned tens of thousands of dollars and were well on their way to a December trip to Las Vegas.
Through the end of July, McCoy had picked up a few paychecks as he traveled the rodeo circuit, earning $7,000 in three months on the trail. Now focusing on bull riding, he sometimes strapped his hand to as many as seven or eight bulls a week, desperately chasing his dream. At that time, the leader in the standings was nearing the $200,000 mark.
Cord McCoy was being left in the dust.
“I went for a stretch there where I wondered if I was good enough to ride at a top level,” he said. “I just couldn’t stay on. I finally got so frustrated after getting bucked off, I asked the stock contractor if he had another bull he could run in there for me so I could just work off whatever the problem was. He did, and that bull was even ranker than the one I got on for the money.
“But I rode that bull. I did the right things to ride him, and even though it wasn’t for the money, it paid off.”
He returned to his home state for Bullnanza at the Ford Center. It was the first time he’d set foot on Oklahoma soil in weeks, and he needed a gallant homecoming in all sorts of ways.
On the opening night, McCoy scored a whopping 95 to win the first go-round. Cha-ching. $5,259.
The next night was much of the same. McCoy scored a 93 to win the second go-round. Another $5,259. Though he bucked off his final bull, McCoy finished third in the aggregate race with 188 points. All told, he walked out of the Ford Center with $16,479, more than doubling his season’s take in one fell swoop.
That began a roll that saw McCoy win more than $71,000 over the next three and a half months, finishing the regular season with $78,195.
“When I came back, this was something I’d done my whole life for a living,” McCoy said. “I’m not worried about money but just about pure safety and what could happen. That’s when I knew I had to turn it over to God. The whole protection and what I’m going to be able to do … you have to lean on God for that.”
Many prayers were answered the day Cord McCoy left the surgery table alive. Many prayers were answered as his health and cognitive skills progressed. Many prayers were answered the day doctors cleared him to ride again.
And as his family and friends sit in the Thomas & Mack Center watching Cord McCoy compete among the best rodeo cowboys in the world, prayers were answered again.
“I really haven’t thought that much about money or what it pays a round,” he said. “I’m just so thankful to have a year like this. I’m just thankful to be able to go out and do what I enjoy doing and be at the top of the game like that. I went from barely being able to stay on a horse bareback without falling off to eight months later riding in the NFR.
“It’s all pretty awesome.”
Cord McCoy is a cowboy. Thank God for that.