CLAY O’BRIEN COOPER
I started competing at a young age, with the thoughts, dreams, and aspirations of roping being my career. I can remember being 10, 11, 12 years old, and it was already in my head and in my heart that that’s what I wanted to do.
I wanted to be like my heroes—the guys I looked up to in the roping world. It didn’t take long to realize that the road to the top comes with a lot of trial and error, disappointment, hardship, and periods of time when you have to press through some tough stuff. It’s not always easy for any of us. But the fanatics, like me, refuse to turn back. How we face adversity is an individual decision and a choice.
There were helpful principles that I was able to latch onto early on. There was a man named Tom Abshire, and he and his family used to haul me around to jackpots. When I was 12 and in a slump, I got pretty down emotionally. Tom told me those were the times you learn something and get better, and that after you work your way out of that you come out better on the other side.
That made me dig in, try harder, and keep pressing on to try and figure it out. What I’ve found over the course of my career is that that principle holds true to this day, no matter who you are. Whether you’re Jade Corkill or Junior Nogueira, you’re going to hit some hard spots. It doesn’t matter what stage of your career you’re in—even if you’ve won world championships—you will hit rough patches. Things are not always going to go perfectly for any of us.
In my travels, I talk to ropers of all levels from all parts of the country, and I like visiting with them. I see talented kids, and people of all ages trying to get better, climb the ladder, and be successful with their roping. More than anything, it’s about keeping your head down, plowing on, pressing forward, and working at it every day.
We all need to keep an open mind to useful, new information, and work hard at implementing it or at least giving it a try. Jake (Barnes) always said at the beginning and end of our schools that there really are no secrets to roping. It’s about doing the job efficiently, and that takes a lot of practice and perseverance. It also takes knowing that when you hit the inevitable tough times—no matter how gifted and talented you are—you will get to the other side if you stay determined and don’t pull up and quit.
This is just a principle of life, and it plays out in roping, too. This has all become more clear to me as I’ve gotten older. The guys I looked up to when I first started rodeoing are close to 70 years old now. Their bodies are hurting, but they’re still trying to enjoy roping. They say that as you get older you have to try harder. Life doesn’t just get easier with age.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a golfer, a baseball player, a CEO, or a roper, it’s that never-give-up mentality that gets you to the other side of the tough times. We learned this as kids, and it’s still true. I was raised by Gene O’Brien, who came from a hard life, and the era of men from the Great Depression. It was about survival for guys like him. I’m thankful that his generation taught these principles to my generation. Now we need to teach them to the next generation, because life isn’t just going to be handed to anyone on a bed of roses. It’s up to each of us to make something of it.