Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"

Throwing My Loop…    

By:  Michael Johnson  



     I had a hero when I was young.  Even though it’s been forty years since I’ve laid eyes on him, my vision of him is still crystal clear.  I can see him now with his perfect silver belly Stetson, crisp jeans, and starched shirts that never knew a wrinkle.  My dad and uncles were rarely impressed with anyone…but they were with him.  They were impressed with that blood bay stallion of his who could run a hole in the wind, and even more by the way he threw his rope.  When I was twelve, I knew he could rope a deer by the horns, a hawk by the tail, and a bee by his wings.  When he entered a rodeo, we all went to watch.  We watched him saddle his horse, and how he paid minute attention to every single detail.  How he fixed his bits, and how he coiled his Billy Leach ropes.  We watched him do everything - a small boy and all the men – we all watched the greatest roper any of us had ever known.  We even watched him practice…
     His routine was always the same.  Every day, he ran a flawless dozen on his practice horse and every other day, two - and only two - on the blood bay.  And what a sight it was.  In that old dusty practice pen, he came from the box so hard and fast and when the lightning shot from his arm, the loop snapped on – always the perfect size for the particular calf’s head, then he was down the rope like quicksilver.  His hands would whirl and blur, then shoot skyward with a snap you would swear you could hear…and then silence.  Once in a while, one of the men might say in a low voice, “Good run, Bill.”  He would nod his head and say, “Yeah, but there’s still work to do.”  And my, my, did he work.  He practiced all his life, and in all that time, the most remarkable thing was – in all that time, I never saw him win a dime.
     Now ain’t that the strangest thing?
     How in the world could this man be so skilled and yet never win?  Took me forever to realize that he actually never visited the pay window, even longer to understand why.  The answer is this poor fellow had a medical condition that most all of us suffer from now and then – that dreaded disorder known as the “heebie-jeebies.”  Here was his pattern…
     “Mr. M” always had everything in order.  This man was prepared.  He had his horse ready, ropes ready, truck all tuned up, and air in the trailer tires.  He would travel to the rodeo, and once there, he would saddle up, tune up, and warm up.  Then he would make his run…and he would miss.  Or he would make some slight bobble that always put him just out of the money.  After packing up, he would return home, and head to the practice pen because obviously “there was still work to do.”  I watched this pattern for over a decade and never saw his problem.  Can you?
     No way on earth am I intending to convey the idea anyone should skip the practice and study grind no matter if they play the piano, play a violin, competitive golf, if they are a college student, or any other thing.  You have to sweat.  You have to work.  But this fellow was leaving out a vital step.  He was trying to do something I now believe no one can do.  He was trying to win without going through the fire.  He was trying to develop perfection at home, and use that to win in the arena.
     People who win – in athletics, in academics, in rodeo, and in life, real winners that is – have to learn how to go through the fire.  People who win cannot avoid falling down, being humiliated, missing short putts, having hot tears on their face, and making a complete fool of themselves even on those occasions when everything is set up perfectly for them to win.  People who learn how to win have to endure self-doubt, sitting in the bedroom for two days wondering, “if I’m cut out for this,” and in general, learning to deal with truly difficult times.  Somewhere in all that, those experiences cause us to seek out teachers.  We might even learn perhaps it might be better to slow down.  And finally, learning that maybe winning is the wrong focus - even though we would never admit that to anyone.  There comes a time in the winner’s thoughts that maybe it would be fun to just go compete and actually enjoy the experience.  Maybe thoughts like these…
     “Okay, can’t beat these guys.  But what if I went somewhere just one time, and didn’t beat myself.  What if I just got out of my own way, stopped all the internal yelling and whining at myself, and just did what I know I can do.  What if just one time I could relax and win the inner game?”
Guess what happens when you do that?
     The world slows down, you see and feel things you didn’t feel and see before.  Maybe you don’t win, but you do feel your self doing a little better…and you realize this time, at this place, you didn’t beat your self.  Then this very small light comes on inside.  It’s a new thing and at first you don’t know what it is ‘cause you haven’t felt it before.  It’s the thing called confidence.  Your faith in you is refreshed.  You start looking and learning about what winning really is.
     My old hero tried to win by staying at home and becoming perfect.
     Perfect practice is good.  But to win, there is something else you have to do.
     You gotta’ go to lots of rodeos – and fall down.  And get up and try again.
     That’s how you win.


          Michael Johnson

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