I have worked for Wish of a Lifetime for 6 years. We’re a non-profit organization based out of Denver, CO that grants life-enriching wishes to older adults across the country and shares their incredible stories to further inspire future generations. I have had the privilege of getting to know some really amazing older adults and have heard stories that would blow you away. I have had the honor of working with war heroes, I have reunited three sisters (ages 101, 104 and 110), I have reconnected two high school sweethearts 75 years later; you get the idea – I’ve seen some really inspiring things. That’s why when I received an application for a man named David in Ruidoso, NM to meet some rodeo clown I had never heard of, I didn’t think much of it. Of course, this changed.
David McMath grew up in Fort Worth, TX and got into the rodeo scene when he was a sophomore in high school. He started riding horses bareback, then went on to bull-riding and eventually drifted into being a barrel man (the guy who crouches down in the barrel and gets drilled by the bull). This wasn’t a hobby for the faint of heart. Broken bones are a requisite in the rodeo world and making a career of being a “rodeo guy” is as challenging as it gets. David would eventually make his way to Texas A&M for a couple of years, before getting married and going to work as a welder. While David had left the rodeo scene, the rodeo continued to live inside him.
Now 80-years-old, David’s rodeo days are far behind him. Life has gotten quite difficult in fact. Aside from dealing with his own health issues, David has been serving as a full-time caregiver for his wife who is suffering from Alzheimer’s and up until a few months ago was still waking up at 5:30AM every morning to take care of his bus driving duties. It has been a remarkably hard stretch of time for David and his daughter Deborah knew she needed to do something for him.
A few years back Deborah bought her dad a book called “This Ain’t My First Rodeo.” The book was written by a rodeo clown named Lecile Harris. Lecile used to clown on the Fort Worth rodeo circuit that David was on and he was well known at the time, but not as well-known as he would eventually be. The book brought back so many memories for David and it included many stories about Lecile and David’s old childhood friend and champion bull rider Johnny Clark. Deborah said her dad finished it immediately and probably read it 15 more times. Looking for something special to do for her father, Deborah decided to submit an application to Wish of a Lifetime for her dad to meet Lecile. I happened to receive this application.
After connecting with Deborah and David I started to learn more about this world, which is way different than the one I grew up in. Deborah shared with me that when she was riding one of her dad’s barrel racing horses at 9 years old, she fell off of it and wound up shattering her leg and breaking her femur. She was back to riding within 6 months. David, for his part, has had a broken jaw, wrist, hernia, cuts, bruises, etc. As he told me, “If it could hurt me, I wanted to be close to it!” David’s stories were crazy, but he told me I needed to read Lecile’s book if I wanted to hear some really wild stories. I would get to that, but first I needed to figure out how to get to Lecile.
Connecting with Lecile and getting him to agree to fly to New Mexico to meet David was going to be a big ask. Wish of a Lifetime often receives applications to meet a celebrity and they are met with mixed results. Seniors in our society are often overlooked, but that is why our organization exists. Making a pitch to a celebrity is always difficult and many of the pitches I have made never even make it to the celebrity. Nevertheless, David had a great story and I wished for the best. Luckily, in this case, Lecile and David shared a mutual friend named Johnny Clark, as mentioned earlier in this story, who David had grown up with and Lecile had saved from many bulls back in the day. I was able to connect with Johnny’s son Kelly who put me in touch with Lecile, who is still performing as a rodeo clown at the age of 81 and is in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame.
Deborah had sent me a copy of Lecile’s book “This Ain’t My First Rodeo” a few weeks prior to me connecting with Lecile. I couldn’t put the book down. I suppose I should have known a rodeo clown would have some fun stories and anecdotes, but Lecile is a whole different breed. I would say he is cut from a different cloth, but I don’t think he was cut from cloth at all. Maybe scrap metal or something of that nature. He has had more broken bones than can be counted and has stories that are absolutely wild. I shared David’s story with Lecile and sent along a picture as well. The picture was of Lecile fighting a bull and David was in the background. Lecile said, he couldn’t be sure but he thought he remembered David’s face, because “Most of those bull riders were ugly back in the day and David was a good looking guy.” Even though he is 81 years old and still working a crazy schedule touring around the country, Lecile decided it was worth making the trip out to meet David, saying, “This will probably be an even more meaningful experience for me then it will be for David!”
(David pictured in the white shirt behind Lecile’s right elbow)
I decided after reading Lecile’s book and chatting with Deborah over the course of the planning of this wish that I had to make my way out to New Mexico to meet these guys and be a fly on the wall as they shared their stories. I met Lecile and Johnny (who had made the 7-hour trek from Texas to join his old friends) at a hotel in Roswell, NM. At 81, Lecile still looks the part of a rodeo guy. He goes about 6’3”, 200lbs. Back in the day he was 6’5”, but he told me he broke his back so many times that he shrunk a couple of inches. Other than shrinking two inches, Lecile is in remarkable shape. His pillbox basically consisted of vitamins and a baby aspirin, which makes no sense if you have read Lecile’s book or seen the YouTube video of him getting blindsided by a bull at age 70! Johnny, who was a champion bull rider and someone who Lecile describes as “a man that was born 100 years too late” was something to behold. Just one look at Johnny and you knew he was a character. He wore a tall cowboy hat, had boots that look like the kind Lewis & Clark probably wore on their first expedition, and sported a custom embroidered shirt his son made him that read, “Out of the Dark-Comes Old Johnny Clark.” Johnny is funny to say the least. He is always busting someone’s chops and it is impossible not to like the guy.
We made our way to the Ruidoso Jockey Club to meet David. A special lunch was set up for David with a couple dozen family members and friends. As soon as we entered the dining room, David, Johnny and Lecile were in full story telling mode. These guys had stories for days and the day continued on with the guys swapping some of the wildest stories you could imagine. But at the end of lunch, David had a few things on his mind. He stood up and thanked everyone and told the group two things. “All you need in life is a good wife, good children, and good dogs and I was fortunate enough to have all three.” He finished by saying, “If I was to die, I would want to be reincarnated in the same life.”
While the stories of bull fighting and brawling were as entertaining as one could imagine, there was so much more to these guys than that. David, is going through some challenges in life that most people would shrink away from. He is a two-time cancer survivor. Many people in David’s position would have thrown in the towel by now, but David keeps on battling and is all about his family. David wanted to make sure his wife, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s was there at his party and if you watched him with her, you would know there isn’t a more caring soul in the world than David. If anybody deserved to have a “Wish of a Lifetime”, it was David.
A very special thanks to Lecile Harris, the Clarks and Ruidoso Jockey Club for helping pull all of this together!