Cowgirl rides high after clearing health hurdles

-I read this article in the Casino when I was having breakfast before the Cloverdale Rodeo yesterday morning and thought you all would like to read it. It’s from the Vancouver Sun I hope it’s alright to put it on here.

Meeting a dying cowboy helped barrel rider put her own struggles into perspective

By Yvonne Zacharias, Vancouver Sun May 21, 2011

Barrel racer Lindsay Sears might be forgiven if she felt a little sorry for herself at one point in her life.

Throughout 2009, the Nanton, Alta., cowgirl wasn’t feeling well but she couldn’t quite figure out why.

That September, doctors found the answer. They discovered she had an ovarian tumour that had to be removed.

But the upbeat 30-year-old wasn’t going to buckle right away to the dictates of doctors and the screaming inside her body. She quelled them long enough to compete in the National Finals Rodeo that December.

Having grown up on a ranch in a family that have been ranchers for over a hundred years, there was no way she was going to pass up the event lightly.

She had come so far from a childhood of riding in the little summer rodeo for kids in Nanton. She was riding sheep when she was as young as four.

Now the glittering lights of Las Vegas and the NFR there beckoned. This is, after all, the super bowl of rodeo, the premier championship event in the U.S.

Besides, she had another important reason for competing: a dying bull rider who was putting his faith in her.

So Sears gritted her teeth and bore the pain -which might have been a mistake. She was sick throughout the finals. It taught her a lesson.

“There is more to life than rodeo,” she said in an interview while preparing to compete in barrel racing in the Cloverdale Rodeo this weekend. “If you are not healthy, you cannot enjoy what you are doing.”

In November 2009, shortly before competing, a phone call that came out of the blue changed her life forever.

A 23-year-old bull rider from Missouri named Cody Stephens had a bit of a crush on her. He also had a bucket list. It had to be completed as soon as possible. He was enduring his second bout of leukemia. Meeting her was on the list.

Sears called him in his hospital room that very night.

“It was one of those phone calls that I really needed because at that point, I was sick. I was feeling sorry for myself. I think my horse at that time was hurt and the NFR was coming up. Things were not going the way they were supposed to go.”

Stephens was due for a bonemarrow transplant the next day. The prognosis was not good. Yet Sears was inspired by the young stricken cowboy’s upbeat attitude.

“Here he was facing something that no one should have to face at the age of 23. You should not have to be coming to the realization that the end is near, that it could be tomorrow if the transplant didn’t go well.”

Yet Stephens seemed more concerned about motivating her for the NFR.

“He never once felt sorry for himself,” said Sears. “I thought that if he can have that kind of attitude, I need to change mine.”

Instead of focusing all her energies on winning a world title at the finals, she was hellbent on winning one go-round so she could get a buckle to present to Stephens because “that’s all that kid ever dreamed of doing.”

She won that go-round. “It was the most relieving moment of my life.”

She ended up losing the world title by a whisper, a mere fiveone-hundredths of a second. At any other time, she would have been devastated. Not this time. Interspersed with Stephens’s health problems were her own. Several days after the NFR, she had her tumour removed. Then in the second week of January 2010, she took the coveted buckle to Stephens who was very ill.

In those moments in the hospital room as his life was fading, Sears recalled the fallen cowboy saying one thing to his mother who had faithfully stayed by his side for over a hundred days.

“I’m tired.” That was it. That’s the closest he came to complaining. Sears figured it was his way of asking for his mother’s permission to die.

“It’s okay, Cody. I’ll be okay.” Permission granted.

The next day, Stephens died, but not without having given Sears a precious gift.

The bull rider gave her the courage to fight an uphill battle with her own health that fortunately has ended in victory.

Thinking her troubles were over with the removal of the tumour, she returned to the rodeo circuit at the beginning of February of last year, travelling to places like San Antonio, Tucson and Houston with an ache in her heart and fire in her belly.

She found she could hardly function without feeling sick or as though she was going to pass out.

More medical tests. More diagnoses. Doctors discovered intestinal problems and had to remove her gall bladder in May 2010, which meant she had to skip the Cloverdale Rodeo.

Now she is back, ready to roar on her horse Moe, ready to cut corners as she races around three barrels in a cloverleaf pattern, trying to shave off precious seconds to win.

She feels great, although she has to steer clear of the french fries and cotton candy that are staples on the rodeo menu. A small price to pay for her health.

And as she rides, she will be carrying in her heart the memory of a young cowboy who taught her more than the rodeo ever could.

“There is no way that I could ever repay Cody for how he has changed me to make me a better person.”

Everyone thought it was she who did Stephens a favour by visiting him. In fact, it was the reverse.

“He could have picked a million people but he picked me.”

He changed her life.

Thank you, Cody.


– Today, 2 p.m. and 7: 30 p.m.

– Sunday, 2 p.m.

– Monday (finals), 2 p.m.

© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun

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