A Time for Everything

photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen

I would still love to win a gold buckle, but I’m completely content with trying to be a light around all my rodeo buddies.

by Isaac Diaz
 
 

I’m a saddle-bronc rider, and my wife, Britany, is a barrel racer. We’re pretty fortunate to do what we do. We make our own schedules. We don’t have to answer to anybody. But rodeoing can be a crazy lifestyle, especially when you’re raising a child, which we’ve been doing ever since our daughter, Whitlee, arrived last December.

And no matter what you do for a living, you’re gonna have bad days, like the one I had last May after the Miles City Bucking Horse Sale in Montana. When you do get thrown a curveball, you gotta step back and say, Well, Lord, just handle it.

That’s what went through my head in May.

In Miles City, I got on a really nice horse that shouldn’t have put any strain on me. I double-grabbed at the whistle, and something in my gut—below my gut—popped. It popped maybe four times before I bailed off in the mud.

They had to carry me out of the arena. The pain was so bad I nearly threw up.

I focused all my energy on getting back to Texas and seeing a doctor. Somehow I managed to clean most of the mud off myself and hobble out to the parking lot. I found my rental car and saw that somebody had backed into it and knocked the bumper off.

I got to the airport, returned the car and learned that the first leg of my return flight was delayed. I was going to miss my connection to Dallas-Fort Worth. I made it to Phoenix but then found out my DFW flight was canceled.

At two o’clock the next morning, I was laying on the airport floor in too much pain to sleep. I had a lot on my mind. In the fourteen years since I started rodeoing professionally, I was halfway through my best year ever. By mid-May I had won $52,000 and was in the top ten. Until Miles City, I felt like all I had to do was place along throughout the summer and I was gonna be heading to the National Finals in December.

Now it was coming to an end.

It’s kind of funny, but despite all that happened that day, I never really got upset. I had a peace about me. I guess God reveals himself to me always, every day. I felt like God was letting me know, Hey, it’s gonna all work out.

I caught a 5:00 a.m. flight to DFW and went straight to see Dr. Tandy Freeman, the medical director of the Justin Sportsmedicine Team. He told me the muscles of my lower abdomen and groin had been ripped from my pelvis. He referred me to a surgeon in Philadelphia—Dr. William Meyers, the best there is, he said, when it comes to repairing injuries to the core. A week later, Dr. Meyers basically baseball-stitched my muscles and pelvis back together.

That injury knocked me out for ten weeks in the heart of summer, but I can’t complain about a thing. I’ve had a very healthy career. This was the only time I’ve ever had a doctor’s release.

What’s really crazy about the whole situation was the timing. I had more money than ever won up to that point, so I still had a chance to make the NFR. It was almost like God was telling me, Hey, you’ve had a one-hundred percent healthy career. You need to be at home with your wife and baby girl for a couple months.

photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen


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Crazy Timing

When it comes to timing, you just never know.

Take the first time Britany and I ever met. It was in 2010 at the Canadian Finals Rodeo. I thought she was nice and down-to-earth and really beautiful. But we had no time to hang out. It wasn’t until the spring of 2011, at the rodeo in Clovis, California, that we met again. We danced at a tavern and had a big time. Another six weeks passed until I saw her again. Such is the rodeo life.

Britany and I found a way to make it work, and things between us got serious. She hinted around the fact that if I decided to pop the question, she never wanted to be put on the spot in front of people. I went to the opposite extreme. One morning we were sitting around drinking coffee, and I pulled out a ring and proposed to her right there. She was very surprised. The following year, on November 1, 2013, we got married.

Eventually, we decided it was time to start a family. But getting pregnant wasn’t as easy as we hoped. We tried unsuccessfully for thirteen months. Around that time, a team roper named Trey Johnson was leading a monthly Bible study in Weatherford, Texas. We live in Desdemona, sixty miles southwest of Weatherford. I had gone to one of the Bible studies, but I didn’t know Trey. One day, I was saddling a horse at the barn when my phone rang. It was Trey. He said he got my number from bareback rider Bobby Mote. “God just put you in my heart,” he said. “I wanted to call and see if you need a prayer for anything.”

Our pregnancy struggles were not something we openly discussed with others, especially people we didn’t know. But all I could think at that moment was, This guy’s being obedient by listening to what God is telling him to do, and he’s calling a stranger out of the blue. I need to be obedient and be honest with him.

“Well, Trey,” I said. “I don’t think my wife will mind me sharing this with you, but we’re having trouble getting pregnant, and I’ve been wanting to talk to someone about getting some prayer.”

“Now’s the perfect time,” he said. “Are you coming to the study next weekend?”

“Yessir.”

“You and your wife stick around afterwards, and me and my wife will pray with you guys.”

The next weekend, we all prayed together. Fifteen weeks later, I sent Trey a picture of the ultrasound of our fourteen-week-old baby. Talk about timing.

photo courtesy of Diaz family

photo courtesy of Diaz family


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My Path

I grew up in Davie, Florida, ten miles west of Fort Lauderdale. Believe it or not, but Davie used to be a real cowboy town, kind of the Stephenville of Florida. My immediate family didn’t rodeo. My dad is a mailman. Mom was at home with the kids for most of our childhood. But I had some distant relatives who were involved in rodeo.

The main influence on me was a bronc rider named Mike Fletcher—Uncle Fletch, I called him. He’s a PRCA gold-card member who won the Southeastern Circuit seven or eight times. He took me and my brother under his wing when we were little. He taught us how to rope. We rode colts for him. We always found cowboying work to do. As I got older, I realized I liked riding fresher colts and told Uncle Fletch I wanted to ride broncs. He hooked me up with a saddle and put me on practice horses at his place. My parents were one-hundred percent supportive. They took time out of their schedules to drive me to high school rodeos. My parents are strong Christian people who gave me a chance to do whatever I wanted to do in life.

One great thing about the rodeo world—it’s like a big family. Britany will check in at a rodeo and find somebody to watch Whitlee while she warms up and runs her horse. She always finds a friend.

After I graduated high school, I went off to Vernon, Texas, for college. For a while, I got sidetracked. It was all about me and rodeo and having fun. I got into trouble, got busted for driving under the influence a few times. The final time, in 2014, I had to sit in the county jail for a couple weeks. That gave me a chance to think about what I’d done. That was a turning point for me. That’s when I realized God was telling me, Enough is enough.

It’s easy to get swallowed up in everything that the sport of rodeo makes you think is important—winning money and buckles and titles. But how many sixty- and seventy-year-old men do you meet and you never have any idea if they made the NFR or not? All that really matters is the impact you make on the people around you.

That was a 180-degree turning point in my life. The next year, 2015, I had the best NFR of my career. I won a round and placed in seven or eight rounds. I finished fourth in the average and sixth in the world standings.

This year, after sitting out for ten weeks following my surgery, my first rodeo back was in Sidney, Iowa, during the first weekend of August. I wasn’t nervous as far as the bronc-riding went. It’s kind of like riding a bike. But I was real nervous about how my body would hold up.

The minute I got down in the chute, I felt things getting tight. As soon as we left the chute, I heard a loud pop. My heart sank. I figured I was going back home again. I had worked so hard during my time off, going to rehab five or six days a week, taking my Platinum supplements, eating well, taking care of my body. I had big plans for making a comeback, and now I was in pain again. It felt like those plans were done.

But when I called my doctors, they explained that the pop was caused by scar tissue and that I’d be fine. That was a relief.

I ended up splitting second place at Sidney. Two weeks later, the pain was gone. I rodeoed hard through the final weeks of the season and ended up 16th, barely missing my shot at the 2019 NFR.

Britany and Rootie

Britany followed her own winding path. She grew up in North Dakota. When she was a teenager, her dad bought a couple of weanlings at a sale in Mandan, North Dakota, and gave Britany her choice. She picked Dasher Dude, which came to be known as Rootie. She alone started Rootie and trained her to run barrels. By 2009 Britany and Rootie were dominating at the Badlands circuit rodeos.

In 2010 Lisa Lockhart asked Britany to be her traveling partner. The legendary barrel racer showed Britany how to enter and took her to Texas for the big winter rodeos. Towards the end of 2010, Britany was in the top fifteen and had her sights set on Vegas. But Rootie came down with bad ulcers and almost died. Britany finished seventeenth in the standings that year.

Britany and Rootie made the NFR in 2011 and again in 2014, when Britany finished fifth in the world. In 2014, Rootie was named reserve Horse of the Year by the American Quarter Horse Association and became the first American horse to win Canadian Horse of the Year.

Britany retired Rootie in 2017. It was hard for her to give up a horse like Rootie. With Rootie, Britany could enter what she wanted and always have a chance to win. She’s been working some young horses lately. We have a bunch of colts running around the house. We’re just flushing embryos on Rootie now. If you could breed that kind of heart into every horse, you’d be set up.

Last summer, Britany had the privilege of riding a horse named Victor owned by Fulton and Trina Murray, parents of NFR-qualifying barrel racer Tillar Murray. It took Britany and Victor a couple of months to click, but by July they won several rodeos. In around four weeks, Britany went from no money won to being in the top six in her circuit. She’s really excited to be competitive again.

photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen

Now that we’re parents, we’re figuring out how to make rodeoing work for both of us. When I was at home recovering last summer, I could go to rodeos with Britany and watch Whitlee and all was good. But as soon as August rolled around, I had to cram as many rodeos as possible to try to make a comeback.

One great thing about the rodeo world—it’s like a big family. Britany will check in at a rodeo and find somebody to watch Whitlee while she warms up and runs her horse. She always finds a friend. This has been a huge transition for Britany, and she’s handling it like a champ.

I’d say we’re both content with where God has put us right now with our little girl. We both have our goals as far as rodeo goes. We’re trying to make more horses and get Britany to the point where she has more options. After all, she can rodeo a lot longer than I can!

All we do at home when we’re not rodeoing is ride horses. Whitlee loves horses. It’s pretty crazy. She’s only eight months old, but if you bring her around a horse, she gets excited and starts talking and wants to touch it. She’s not scared of horses at all. I don’t care what she does as long as she’s happy, but you selfishly hope she likes the same things you do. We’re not gonna push her. When Whitlee is able to ride on her own, that’s when she’ll start. But it is exciting to see her eyes light up when she sees a horse.

I would still love to win a gold buckle, but I’m completely content with trying to be a light around all my rodeo buddies. I just want to rodeo as long as I can and be competitive with them and use my success to be a light for God. If I never win a gold buckle, I’ll be okay with that, as long as when I’m done rodeoing I know I set a good example.

photo by Matt Cohen

photo by Matt Cohen


 

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