Gage Gay admits he never thought that he’d be a part of someone’s “bucket list” but recently the 24-year old has done just that, twice.
In August, Gay was sent a message on social media from a woman, Kari Fried, who said her father Lyle had always wanted to come to a PBR event and meet Gage. Lyle, who had been a teacher most of his adult life, had recently found out he had bone marrow cancer and was not given very long to live.
He began writing a bucket list and one thing on the list was to attend a PBR event and meet Gage. A former student of his, who had become a pilot, found out about Lyle’s wish and flew the family to Nashville in his private plane.
Gay arranged for the family to get front row seats and made sure he met Lyle on Friday night.
“He said he was having the time of his life,” Gay recalled.
“I don’t think I’m worthy to have these people want to go out of their way to meet me,” Gay said. “In life there are opportunities you get that come to you in the form of helping someone else. I thought if getting tickets to an event and saying hi to someone else helps them out when they’re sick then who am I to say no.”
“Gage has such a big heart,” Gay’s girlfriend, Peyton said. “There are so many times Gage wants to help people, but he knows he can’t do it all the time, so when an opportunity comes when he can do something for someone else, he takes it.”
Recently Jennifer Swan reached out to Peyton and Gage on social media to tell them about a young boy, Laiken, that really wanted to meet Gage.
“She told me how Laiken has had a very hard life for someone so young.” Gay said. “I sent him some shirts and a glove so he could look like a bull rider, and then we told Jennifer that we’d love to have them come to the Greensboro event, so he could see it in person.”
Laiken has lived a life that no 10-year old should live. He and his two siblings have seen and experienced things that would make adults cringe. Their mother is an addict and their father went to prison for setting the family home on fire.
“Laiken has practically raised his siblings,” Swan said. “He’s been their protector for most of his life. The hardest thing when they came to live with us was letting them know they were safe, and they always had something to eat. They would hide food because they were so used to never knowing when they would have another meal.”
Swan said, “I’ve always watched the PBR and my kids have watched it with me. But Laiken had never seen it until he came to live with us. Well he fell in love. He knows all the stats, who all the guys are and even the bulls. He’s decided he wants to become a bull rider.”
“So, it became a ritual in our home. We’d crowd around the TV or the computer and either watch it on CBS or on RidePass. I think Laiken looks at the PBR as a happy time and it’s helped him get through the very dark experiences he’s lived through.”
Gay, who is finally back on tour after suffering through surgery from a torn right ACL/MCL, said that having to sit out almost six months really humbled him.
“Having to sit out for so long was hard.” Gay said. “Thank goodness I won that event in New York City or I wouldn’t have had the money in the bank that we needed to get us through those months of me being sidelined.
“Helping Lyle and Laiken taught me that in some situations in life, you have no control. It’s been humbling,” Gay said. “There have plenty of times when Peyton and I have wanted to help but were unable too. When we can put a smile on someone’s face that is the best feeling ever.”
Laiken, like Gay, is learning that his situation doesn’t have to define him. With his father out of prison and actively working to have his children back in his life, Laiken has been told time and again that he can be whoever he wants to be.
“I’ve been trying to instill in Laiken that he is his own person, that he doesn’t have to repeat the cycle of his childhood,” Swan said. “I want him to know his future is in his own hands and it will be whatever he makes of it.”
“As a professional athlete, I feel I need to be a role model for young kids who may lack positive people in their life,” Gay said. “Peyton and I both come from very caring and giving families and we’re trying to raise our son, Bently to be that way as well.”
“Peyton comes from some of the kindest and most generous people in the world,” Gay said. “Growing up my family didn’t have much but they would give their last dollar if it would help you out so the idea of helping other people is just something that both Peyton and I feel strongly about.”
So on October 13-14 when Laiken and his new “family” make their way to Greensboro Coliseum for the 25th PBR: Unleash The Beast Cooper Tires Take the Money and Ride, Gay hopes that Laiken sees that people do care and that there is a better future for him, that he can be anything he wants to be. And that includes a PBR bull rider.
Tickets are still available for the 25th PBR: Unleash The Beast, Cooper Tires Take the Money and Ride are available now and can be purchased at either the Greensboro Coliseum box office, online at Ticketmaster.com or by calling PBR customer service at 1-800-732-1727.
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