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IFYR Cowboy Overcomes Cancer to Realize Rodeo Dream International Finals Youth Rode Finalist Chris Smith

By:  Tammie Hiatt

The International Finals Youth Rodeo is not only the “world’s richest high school rodeo” in the aspect of money paid out, but for the deep well of stories to be found among the many young men and women that travel to Shawnee, OK to compete. 

After reading hundreds of contestant bio’s, several caught my attention but the words “cancer survivor and love to rodeo” put Chris Smith on the top of my list.  I initially contacted him and asked if he would mind telling his story or if he preferred not to talk about it, but he said he was happy to share it with me and even offered some advice for anyone facing the same battle. 

The Loxahatchee, FL cowboy was diagnosed with Wilm’s Tumor, the most common form of childhood kidney cancer, at the age of two.  Now, Smith says he remembers very little about the whole ordeal.  “My mom, Angie, is in the medical field.  She felt a lump on my back and I couldn’t stand up.  She had me checked out and that’s how they caught it.  They International Finals Youth Rode Finalist Chris Smithremoved my left kidney and my spleen.  Since I was so young, I don’t remember the treatments I had to take. Now I just have to take yearly blood tests,” Chris said.

“When I was about 10-years-old, my dad, Terry, took me to a rodeo.  I thought the bareback riding was the coolest event.  I really wanted to try it but they kept saying no because of just having one kidney and no spleen.  They thought it was just too risky for me.  It took a lot of begging and finally when I was 15 they let me start riding,” said Chris.

“I also started riding saddle broncs and have done pretty good.  I won the FLHSRA Bareback and Saddle Bronc Championship in 2009.”  Chris competed in both the bareback and saddle bronc riding at the 2009 IFYR.  Smith finished 9th in the first round  in the saddle bronc riding, but failed to make the top 15 in the first round of bareback riding.  More comfortable in the second round, he rallied back with a 71 point ride in the bareback riding.  Although Chris bucked off his second saddle International Finals Youth Rode Finalist Chris Smithbronc, his first round score was good enough to put him in the short go. 

“I credit Jared Smith and Jim Brunnet for influencing my rodeo career.  They taught me not to think too much and just have fun.  That’s what went wrong in the first round of barebacks, I thought way too much and messed up,” said Chris.  Despite receiving a “no score” in the short go Chris was happy with his trip to Shawnee, “All in all, the IFYR was everything I expected.  It was really fun meeting all the other kids and it’s a great rodeo.”

“As far as giving advice to anyone dealing with cancer, I can tell them to keep looking forward and stay positive.  Keep a good thought and try to ignore it,” said Chris.  “I had the opportunity to go to a cancer camp when I was younger and that really helped me deal with everything.  I’m one of the lucky ones because I wasn’t expected to live.” 
“After high school, I plan to go to Panola College in East Texas and learn to weld.  If I go two years there that will keep my mom happy and after that I can focus on rodeo,” Chris said.  “Now that I finally got the chance to rodeo, I don’t plan to stop.”

The 2010 edition of the International Finals Youth Rodeo will take place July 12-17 at the Heart of Oklahoma Expo Center in Shawnee.  Entries are now being accepted and you can find more information on the “world’s richest highest school rodeo” at www.ifyr.com.