Dr. David Fletcher kicked off February by winning the Wildfire XX #11 Businessman’s Super Qualifier with his partner, header Alan Chappell. In an event that paid out more than $231,000 and drew 420 teams, Chappell and Fletcher took the winning check for $43,000 after securing the top spot by a little more than six-tenths of a second with 32.76 on four head.
For a sport that Fletcher, 44, walked away from for nearly 15 years, he’s been a pretty solid contender since he re-entered the arena back in 2007, and rarely heads home with empty pockets, despite being fully committed to his career in emergency medicine, which he practices at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth.
“I was a roper before I was a doctor,” Fletcher responded to this observation, who—since his Wildfire win—has been moved from a 6-Elite to a 7 classification. “I think that has a lot to do with it.”
He also notes that, unlike many doctors who don’t work in the E.R., his work schedule actually accommodates his arena time pretty well.
“When I’m at work, I’m at work, and it’s hard work,” Fletcher explained. “But as soon as I walk out of the E.R., there’s somebody else there that takes control. So, I don’t really have to take it home. I can rope, or practice, or go out of town to a roping, and not worry about it.”
It’s a benefit of his line of work that Fletcher was aware of from the get-go. While college, medical school, and residency may have dictated time away from horses, Fletcher knew his return to Fort Worth (he was born in the same hospital that now employs him) meant horses and roping were on the table again.
“I really didn’t know if I’d ever get back into the horses again,” Fletcher revealed about his 15 years off, “but then I landed a great job at Harris, and I felt back at home in Fort Worth. I don’t think I was moved back here for three months and I bought a horse before I even bought a house.”
Growing up, Fletcher’s family moved out of the city, and at his new school, the sixth-grade Ag Shop teacher ran a small team roping club just a mile or so down the road, so Fletcher would ride his horse out and practice roping a few nights each week. He roped through junior high and high school, rode saddle broncs and bulls, and raced motorcycles, too. By the time he set his mind on becoming a doctor his freshman year of college, the E.R. was a place with which Fletcher had already become fairly familiar.
“Yea, I ended up there several times myself,” Fletcher said, admitting the consequences of some his adrenaline-boosting hobbies.
Now, as the one caring for the patient instead of being the patient, Fletcher thrives in the equally challenging environment.
“I’m in the emergency room at a trauma center,” he described. “Our E.R. has 110 beds and sees about 140,000 patients each year. You walk in the door, and for the next nine hours, it’s non-stop. You name it, I’ve seen it. I take care of PRCA cowboys when the Fort Worth Stock Show is in town, I take care of super successful stars that are in town and in need, and I take care of the homeless, and I may do it all in one shift.
“In a way, it’s like team roping,” Fletcher drew. “There are no two days that are the same. Different diseases; different complaints; different everything. And heeling steers, no two ever hop the same. It’s all about making adjustments.”
Adjustments and practice, according to Fletcher, who almost walked away from team roping again when he was resettling in Fort Worth.
“I really struggled for the first few years and couldn’t put catches together,” Fletcher said. “I got some help from Patrick Smith and Travis Woodard, who are not only great friends, but really good mentors. Then, the winning started coming and that just put a fire in me to keep working harder.”
It’s a goal he pursues regularly. With an arena at the house he did get around to buying and his younger brother, Jim, just down the road, Fletcher gladly feeds that fire.
“Jim helps a lot around here and, for the last 10 years, we’ve practiced together as much as we can between our work schedules and weather, so, we’re usually practicing three or four days a week, solid.”
It’s practice that has literally paid off many times over for Fletcher, like with his win at the 2011 Cinch USTRC National Finals of Team Roping in the #9 for a cool $93,200 with header Michael Bailey—thus far, the highlight of his team roping career.
Of course, no matter the thrill of the challenge and the reward of all the practice, there is a significant risk that comes along with Fletcher’s affinity for roping. And, as a heeler, potential injury—particularly to his hands, which play such a vital role in his ability to take care of his patients’ emergencies—is not lost on Fletcher.
“I know I’m not immune from it,” Fletcher reasoned, “but I try to be careful. You know, you only live once, and you have to live your best life. Heeling is my hobby. It’s what I do.”