Keeping the faith

Three years ago, Koby Douch’s rodeo career was almost over before it even really got started.

While riding his bike in his hometown of Huntsville, Texas, to get ready for a rodeo on July 3, 2018, a car hit Koby from behind, the impact sending him across two lanes of traffic and into a ditch. The 13-year-old calf roper was left with two broken bones in his left leg, a broken blood vessel and a partially torn eyelid.

Friday afternoon at the Junior World Finals in Las Vegas, Koby, now 16, qualified for the shootout round in the 19 & Under tie-down competition.

“When the accident first happened I thought I was done,” Koby said Friday after his second run inside the Wrangler Rodeo Arena. “I thought it was the end of my roping career. But everybody told me to keep pushing and to not lose faith.”

Koby Douch

The road to recovery was a long one. After surgery, where doctors inserted a rod and four pins in his leg to help stabilize it, Koby was placed in a walking boot. It was four months before he was allowed to exercise his horses and another two months before he was able to ride. For someone who had been riding horses since he could remember, the inactivity was almost too much for Koby to handle.

“When I got my walking boot I wanted to start back roping but nobody would let me,” he recalled. “I even wanted to ride when I was in my walking boot, but nobody would let me on a horse.”

Eventually, Koby was given the go-ahead to ride and later to start roping again.

“When I got out of the boot I started to ride and rope a little bit and getting my confidence back,” Koby said. “And I started roping breakaway around the pen. My first rodeo back was at a little rodeo in Giddings, Texas. When I roped my first calf and stepped off my horse, I was like, “Golly. I can’t believe I just did that.’

“Ever since then I’ve been pushing myself. But I was a little nervous that first time back because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I was scared.”

Koby’s fear is gone now, having been replaced by a determination to be the best calf roper he can be. One year after the accident he won the Texas Junior High School Rodeo Association tie-down title to qualify for the national junior high school finals. And earlier this year he qualified for the Junior World Finals.

His time inside the Wrangler Rodeo Arena was in danger of being a short one, however. His first-round run of 9.1 seconds put him 11th. Before his second run, his older brother John pulled him aside and gave him some advice.

“He said, ‘Don’t change anything from the first round,’ Koby said. “I did what he told me and look where it got me.”

Koby’s second run of 8.37 seconds was good enough for third in the round. More importantly, it put him fifth in the average with a two-run time of 17.47 seconds to qualify him for Saturday’s shootout.

Obviously, listening to his older brother paid off, which isn’t surprising considering John, 24, is currently competing across town in his first National Finals Rodeo as one of the top 15 tie-down ropers in the world.

John, who competed in the Junior World Finals a few years ago and was the reserve champion at the 2017 College National Finals Rodeo while competing for Hill College, finished 16th in the world standings in 2019.

Like Koby’s recovery from his accident was a turning point for him, John’s near miss two years ago was a fork-in-the-road moment.

Longtime friend and mentor Joe Beaver – an eight-time world champion and Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame inductee – watched Koby’s first run before having to leave to get ready for Friday night’s NFR broadcast. He said he never doubted that either brother would get back to the top of their sport.

“Once I saw their try and determination that gave me enough reason to give them a chance,” Beaver said. “And the best part is they’re good kids. And if you’re a good kid and stay out of trouble and take care of your end of the deal then I’m going to help you.

“You can either give up and say I almost did or it can make you tougher and you’ll find a way to come back and make it.”

Koby and John chose the latter route.

This week, Koby has gotten his first taste of seeing his brother compete at the Thomas & Mack Center. The two are hoping to make it an annual destination in a few years when both will be competing.

“He’s going to be up there with me in just a few years,” John laughed.

Koby smiled when asked what it would mean for both he and John to qualify for the NFR in the same year.

“That’s a lifetime goal,” he admitted. “I’ve been dreaming about that ever since I was a little kid watching the NFR on TV. Both of us at the NFR and roping against each other …

“It’s just like when we practice. I love him, but when we rope I always tell him, ‘May the best man win.’”

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