PUEBLO, Colo. – 2011 Ring of Honor member Michael Gaffney stood before a group of young aspiring bull riders and cowboys this past week at the 2014 National Little Britches Rodeo Finals at the Colorado State Fairgrounds and saw a near spitting image of himself.
The bull riders, ranging in ages from 8 to 18, all were eager to learn more about bull riding and how to become a better athlete.
Twenty-six years ago to this week, Gaffney was right there sitting in Pueblo at the National High School Finals Rodeo. He was 18 years old and looking to make a name for himself, impress college scouts and showcase his talent as a bull rider.
He had dreams and aspirations of one day becoming a professional bull rider.
The 45-year-old never considers himself a preacher or a coach, but he wanted to make something clear to the young kids this past Monday.
“Whatever level of cowboy you want to be is up to you,” Gaffney said. “It is all up to you. I was no different than you 26 years ago. I had great aspirations and pulled out my guts and went for it. The only difference between you and me is something called perseverance. That is what life is all about.”
Michael Gaffney at the 2014 National Little Britches Rodeo Finals.
Today, July 26, is the 10th annual National Day of the Cowboy, which takes place every year on the fourth Saturday of July.
There will be celebrations throughout the country today honoring the heritage of the American West. More information can be found by logging on to nationaldayofthecowboy.com
Perseverance and toughness were common traits Gaffney remembers about being around the other 19 founding fathers of the PBR. Having to go to eight to 12 rodeos in one week prior to the PBR being founded was mentally and physically taxing, yet they all kept working toward their dreams.
Gaffney grew up in New Mexico on a farm of about 20 acres out in the country. He first began to learn the idea of toughness from his older brother and father, who was a member of the Marine Corps. The 1997 World Champion recalls the countless times he heard stories growing up about how his father would have to walk sometimes a mile-and-a-half in the snow as a kid just to get to the bus stop in the 1930s to go to school.
Then there was his best friend’s dad, who was a rock mason that grew up in Mexico just north of Chihuahua and was one of the toughest men he ever knew.
Those childhood role models helped groom Gaffney into the man he is today, and once he hit the road professionally he learned that much more from his fellow bull riders.
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“In any sport, any job – especially being a cowboy – that is something that I always aspired to be. I saw people that were tough and I wanted to be tough. I didn’t want to go out and actually show it. I just wanted to be it in in my inside so that if I saw myself in the mirror I could see that I was living how I wanted to live.”
But it’s more than just being tough.
Part of the cowboy way of life is being full of good manners and having respect for others, says Gaffney.
“That is the cowboy, really truly that is the core of the cowboy,” Gaffney said. “I don’t care if it’s a Mike White, Chris Shivers, myself, Aaron Semas, Cody Lambert or Ty Murray – that is where we came from. I am damn sure not saying we are perfect, but in a general sense that’s how we try to live our life and project that image.”
Whenever White, who was raised on a ranch in Louisiana, meets with young bull riders, he stresses those core values of respect.
“A lot of it is having respect for other people,” he said. “Being a gentleman. When you are introduced to a lady, take your hat off. Using your manners, yes ma’am/no ma’am.”
White, who has a 10-year-old son, Logan, and a 3-year-old daughter, Morgan, is making sure to raise his kids with polite manners. He understands that while, yes, his bull riding talent may have helped him reach the PBR, but it was his manners helped him achieve so much more.
“It’s very important for me,” the 1999 Rookie of the Year said. “If it weren’t for my manners and discipline, and the other things that go along with it, I may not have gotten the sponsorship and some of the other things that I have gotten through my bull riding career.”
Gaffney has the same expectations for his two kids, Destyn, 11, and Marek, 6. He and his wife, Robyn, stand for nothing less than good manners.
“We have a good moral fiber from the people in our life, the cowboys that instilled that in me and those tough guys and my parents and older brother,” Gaffney said. “That is what we try to convey to them. You treat everybody with respect and that is the cowboy way.”
He later added, “It really is a whole way of living and carrying yourself. I like to think that is how we all feel as a whole. I know the guys that I surrounded myself with, the original PBR founders, that is how we try to live our life and we are proud of that.”
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko.
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