It’s been six years, but tie-down roper Stran Smith hasn’t forgotten the helplessness he felt when he suffered a mild stroke while preparing for a day of practice.
He had been one of the fastest in the world at the physically demanding sport, which involves catching a 110-kilogram calf with a loop of rope, jumping off a horse and trying the animal’s feet together.
But on that day, his future was put in doubt.
“It scared me pretty good,” Smith, a native of Childress, Texas, said during a break in competition this week at the Calgary Stampede. “It makes you appreciate the things you take for granted in life, so for me it gave me a different perspective on things.”
Smith was 32 on that day in 2003 and despite the fact he didn’t suffer any serious damage or paralysis, the prognosis wasn’t good.
“The blood clot hit the speech part of my brain so I couldn’t talk and that was the only thing, fortunately,” he explained with a laugh. “I couldn’t talk for about 48 hours, but when my speech came back I still had my Texas accent.”
In addition to the stroke, doctors found that Smith had a hole in his heart.
“The first doctor I saw told me they’d treat me medically, but there was nothing I could do except I had to change my occupation and change my lifestyle and anything physical was no more. So that meant no more roping,” he recalled.
He opted for experimental surgery — not just so he could return to rodeo, but because it was the best option for his physical health.
He returned to competition four months later.
But he didn’t just compete, he thrived.
He was the 2004 runner-up world roping champion and, in 2008, he won the title.
He has spoken about his experience a lot.
“Oh yeah, I’m famous with the stroke victims,” laughed Smith as he stood next to his primary competition horse, Destiny.
“I tell all the kids ... of all the covers I’ve been on and all the photo shoots — the cover of Stroke Smart Magazine. This is the one you don’t want to be on.”