Culture / Rodeo

Comeback Kid

Tragedies aside, season after season Texas tie-down roper Stran Smith battles his way into championship contention.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”That thought, taken from the Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities might best describe Childress, Texas, tie-down roper Stran Smith’s 2003.

Under the best-of-times category, the talented, good-looking cowboy was married to former Miss Rodeo America Jennifer Douglas, and the happy couple was expecting their first child. After missing the Wrangler® National Finals Rodeo in 2002 because of knee surgery, he was off to a great start in the 2003 tie-down standings. In March, he won the tie-down roping title at Fort Worth, Texas, a special rodeo to him since his dad, Clifton Smith, had once held the arena record there. Smith was healthy. He was roping well, and optimistic about his future.

Then, on April 26th, he was at his home, getting ready to practice, when a strange feeling came over him. He couldn’t get the words he wanted to say out of his mouth. “I got to the point I couldn’t talk at all,”he says today. “It was like something took away my voice.”

According to CAT scans and MRI tests, the “something”that took away his voice was a stroke. It could’ve affected any part of his body, but impaired only his speech. The 33-year-old expectant father was told his career, and life as he knew it, was over. Doctors found a hole in his heart that had been there since birth. Smith pushed to find a doctor who’d give him more positive news and found a specialist in Boston. Dr. David Thaler examined Smith, and decided to perform an unusual, not-yet-approved surgery to repair the hole. Thaler was granted an exemption from the Food and Drug Administration for the May 20 surgery. The surgery was successful.

“I really connected with Dr. Thaler,”Smith says. “I’ll never forget the words he used when I got to Boston and told him my story. Whenever I told him the other doctors had said that I’d never rope again, and my life would never be the same, he’d say, ‘I’m unimpressed.’Although there aren’t too many things the doctor and I have in common, I found out we’re a lot alike. He knew he could fix my heart. He didn’t have a doubt.”

For the rest of this story, see the April 2006 issue of Western Horseman.

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