Yes, Even The Champ is Aging
Like it or not, roping changes as we age. But Clay O'Brien Cooper has figured out how to navigate the process so you don't have to.

I turned 60 in May, which means I’m dealing with the same aging issues as every other roper who’s lucky enough to live this long. As I now look back on about 50 years, I see some circle of life stuff going on. I started competing pretty seriously in my own mind at the junior rodeos when I was 8-9-10 years old, and was battling for the strength to swing my rope hard enough and really ride my horse. I was just a scrawny, weakling munchkin. As ropers, we develop physically and mentally in stages. I remember getting to be about 16, and feeling like I was finally strong enough to really get something done. Now I’m 60, and am starting to feel a few subtle changes in my physical strength in the other direction.

Heeling has a lot to do with core strength. Keeping that horse honest and setting up your throw while you’re swinging your rope and riding your horse to where he gives you the exact shot you want takes a lot of strength from your core, legs, roping arm and shoulder. A few years back, Tyler Magnus was analyzing what he thought made me stand out as a roper, and said it was my strength. Hearing that made me stop and analyze myself.

I had the height of my strength when I was 35. That was when I could do anything I wanted to do with a rope, and in hindsight I sort of manhandled my horse and my rope. I realized when I started getting into my 40s that my body was starting to feel just a little different. That strength I had taken for granted since I grew out of being a scrawny kid wasn’t the same. Now all of a sudden that was 20 years ago, and because I’m like every other person there are more physical changes to contend with all the time.

We all steadily decline in terms of physical strength over time. So like everyone else, I’ve had to learn how to adapt and do things more strategically as I’ve lost strength to the natural aging process. At 60, I still go out every day trying to get better, only I’m doing that in a way that’s adapting to doing it with the strength my body has now. I’m still using my horse and my methods to get the job done, but we’re all forced to factor in today’s reality. And in my case, I’m not as physically strong at 60 as I was at 35.

I’m a roping enthusiast, and I’ve seen my heroes I’ve looked up to who were 10-20 years older than me get up into their 50s, 60s and 70s and have to deal with declining physically. Some of them got frustrated, gave in and threw in the towel. But others just fought it out, gritted up against it and kept rolling. They refused to let that decline take them down.

This all comes down to our mindsets and who we are. If we live to be 80 or 100, what are we going to do with every day? I want to fight to the bitter end. I want to use whatever strength and ability I have left to the maximum, and just keep going until I go home to be with God. Then I’ll get a new body, and won’t have to worry about any of this anymore.

I can only do what is my calling and my job in life, and that’s to give it all I’ve got each and every day. I see other people doing that, and it inspires me. My granddad Harwell Cooper gave me the gift of golf. My buddy Bill Tole kind of took his place after he passed away, and we golfed together and became really good friends. Bill got up into his mid-80s, and was still such a go-getter. He passed a few years ago, but his inspiration still stays with me today. As I fight to keep riding, roping and golfing, I aspire to be like Grandpa Harwell and Bill Tole.

We all tend to take our youth for granted. As life changes, we have to change with it. But let’s not lose the mindset of keeping that pedal down and trying to be the best we can be. When we give more of ourselves to get the things that really matter, that’s the good life. TRJ

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