what it takes

“If they write an epitaph on my life, I want it to say that my life was about more than winning.”
There's a difference between winning and being a winner. Clay O'Brien Cooper explains.
Jake and Clay standing on either side of a trophy saddle.
Jake and Clay won The Daddy in Cheyenne in 2002, and more importantly, have been iconic rodeo role models. | Dan Hubbell photo

It’s always puzzled me in a way that I got caught up in the team roping dream at such a young age. “It” was just in me, like a Divine purpose. And once that dream and vision got inside of me, that was that, and roping for a living was all I pursued from that day forward. 

 In looking at people in our sport and all sports who’ve been able to be successful in doing what they dreamed of, it’s become pretty clear to me that “it” is either in you or it’s not. I’ve seen a lot of people over the years who say they want something. But there’s a disconnect. 

They think what they want would be cool. But for some reason, they don’t make it happen. Seeing that happen to a lot of people makes me wonder if “it” was really in them the way “it” was in me and others who got what they dreamed of. For people like me, there is no Plan B. There’s only Plan A. 

READ MORE: Riding Is as Important as Roping at the Highest Level

It’s funny, because it seems like a smart, good idea to have a Plan A, B and C. But when there’s only a Plan A, you become a fanatic about what you want to get done. Your pursuit of that one thing that matters more than anything else to you becomes your only focus. 

It’s that 100% effort and commitment to that one thing you want to achieve that drives you. I’ve had a lot of moms and dads ask for my advice on how to get their kids to do this or that. My thought on that is that “it” is either in them and they’re not going to give up on the dream, or not. 

I’ve seen a lot of kids with talent who were successful to a certain degree. But they just couldn’t make themselves do all of it. Something derailed what their full potential could have been. A lot of it comes down to work ethic, attitude and lifestyle. 

READ MORE: If You Can See It, You Can Do It

I’ve seen world champions get derailed because of lifestyle choices. I’m not one to be hypocritical. I didn’t have a perfect lifestyle early on in life. But it was the pursuit of my dream of roping for a living that pulled me back up onto the right track.

I felt like my Divine purpose from God was to be who I was called to be in the roping world. The allure and pull of wanting to achieve my dream pulled me out of some patterns of behavior that were not so good. And I’m grateful for that. 

Life changes in stages. The plan and what you want out of life evolves because of natural aging changes. What doesn’t change is the driving force inside of you to achieve your ultimate goals. That strong desire on the inside of me to be successful at roping pulled me out of some bad behaviors. 

What a blessing. I realized roping was my purpose, and with success came a responsibility I wanted to own. That responsibility became as important to me as the achievement itself. I wanted to stand for morals and be a role model. 

READ MORE: Winning When You’re Down

Some people in sports say, “I’m not your kids’ role model, you are.” I agree with parental responsibility, but we should all be role models and do what’s right. We should all do our best, and stand for things that are good for our society, families and lives. 

I’ve lived long enough to see the attack of the wrong side of things, and what it’s done to people’s lives. It’s not a good outcome. It ruins kids and families. It’s heartbreaking. Committing to living a life of moral excellence doesn’t mean you’re perfect. But it’s a better way to live, and I’m intrigued and inspired by people who live a moral life. 

All of this is about what’s inside of you. And “it”—the drive to do whatever it takes to succeed, and the desire to stand for what’s right—is either in you or it’s not. God gives us visions and gifts in our lives. If we commit to doing things in a moral fashion, we leave a legacy people can hold on to. 

Moral obligation is the best. If they write an epitaph on my life, I want it to say that my life was about more than winning. Yes, he committed to all it took to win. But he also was a role model and good example to the next generation. That’s what life’s about. TRJ

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