Growing up, T. J. Jones knew from an early age he wanted to be a cowboy, a real cowboy. At the age of ten, his […]
Written by: Siri Stevens< Back to Articles
Miracles happen every day and Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) bareback rider, Zach Curran is absolute proof of it. Only four short years ago, Zach was told that he would never get on a bucking horse again. After undergoing neck surgery at Swedish Medical in 2010 for the fusion of the Cervical six and seven (C6 and C7) vertebrae and removing a bone spur causing a long contusion on his spinal cord, Zach’s injuries were diagnosed as a concern that he should not be walking. “We were right in the middle of all of this during our wedding. We had been to a few neurologists and there was a 50/50 chance that he had MS (Multiple Sclerosis). It was a scary time. I was at the end of my graduate program and working an internship at Swedish. I asked for a good neurosurgeion and Dr. Elliott was the one that came up. We were thrilled with him. The event brought us closer and we had to lean on each other. We were uncertain of our future, but everything worked out,” said Zach’s wife, Lindsay.
In a remarkable turn of events, Zach was fully recovered in three months other then the contusion on the spinal cord. “The recovery wasn’t too bad, it was a month of not doing a whole lot but walk and not really lifting anything,” he said.
Zach had injured his neck three years prior to his incident after jumping off of a horse in the middle of his ride, landing on his head at the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo in Denver, Colo., which is the speculation point of the beginning of his problems. For the next three years, Zach says that he had problems in his neck and began getting stringers in his riding arm that progressively got worse. Continuing to ride, Zach qualified for the Mountain States Circuit Finals in 2009. “I came out on my horse and he must of whipped my head back. My legs went completely paralyzed in the middle of my ride. When I came off my horse, I landed on my knees and was unable to move my legs or walk out of the arena. After about ten minutes, the feeling returned and I was able to walk, but I was carried out,” he remembered of his first horse.
Originally, Zach’s doctor did not think the contusion would ever completely heal, but after a check up two-and-a-half years later, found that it was nowhere to be seen. “I missed riding, and I kept praying the whole time for God to give me a new neck. I didn’t think I would be able to ride again,” he said. In the spring of the same year, Lindsay got in touch with Dr. Tandy Freeman, who required the examination of all of Zach’s MRIs. Dr. Freeman then set Zach up with Denver Bronco neurosurgeons, who immediately cleared Zach to ride again. “I couldn’t believe it. We were actually just checking, but never thought that it would happen,” said Zach of his excitement.
As soon as Zach learned the news of his release, he went home and got on some practice horses at JD Hamaker’s (H&H Rodeo Company). “I had figured that I wasn’t going to be able to ride, but after getting on the practice horses, I bought my [PRCA] card the next day,” he said. He went on to entering the PRCA Thermopolis rodeo, at the end of June, for his first one back and won it. He then went to Laramie and hit Estes Park for his third show, which he also won. He had gotten himself on a roll and went on to winning the Wyoming State Fair and Rodeo in Douglas, Sterling, Colo., and Afton. “Last summer was great. I started off really well. This year has been slower, but I have to get stuff rolling again,” he said. His continuous hard work allowed him to go into the 2012 Mountain States Circuit Finals and finish second behind year-end and finals champion, Casey Colletti. Currently returning home from his second Ram National Circuit Finals in Oklahoma City, Okla., Zach was able to tie with George Gillespie IV, Jessy Davis and Wes Stevenson for sixth place with a 81-point ride, but missed his horse out in the second round. “I kept praying about it and figured if that was what I was supposed to be doing. I never though about quitting after I started last summer,” he said.
Zach is a self-made cowboy. Growing up in Aurora, Colo., where his parents never competed or got involved in the sport of rodeo. His dad (Pat) works in insurance and his mom (Joanie) is a speech pathologist. Zach’s younger brother (Nick, 26), also has nothing to do with rodeo and is currently finishing up graduate school for teaching. “I’m the black sheep of the family as far as rodeo goes, but my family is and always has been very supportive,” he said. Zach got his start in the sport from a neighbor, a stock contractor (Bob West) who lived down the road. “I got to going out there and hanging out. It soon caught my eye and I decided to get on,” Zach said. “They [West] haven’t bucked anything since I was in middle school.” At the time, he was only nine years old. Living on the west side of town, where there are plenty of people with horses, Zach grew up riding horses just for fun. After only one year, he began competing in the bull riding in the National Little Britches Rodeo Association (NLBRA) and stayed with the event until his freshman year of college. By the age of 12, Zach decided to pick up another event, so bought a riggin’ and got on his first bareback horse. “It ended up being better then bull riding – I caught on to it faster and even began winning more, so I decided to drop bulls and focus on the one event,” he said of his reasons.
Zach clicked immediately with his new event and by 1998, was able to win his first World Championship title in the junior division of the NLBRA. He then went on to winning his second World title in 2002, in the senior division, and the National High School Rodeo Association championship the same year from Farmington, N.M. With numerous titles under his belt, Zach bought his PRCA permit at the age of 18 and filled it the same summer; buying his card in the spring of 2003.
A cowboy of Zach’s caliber quickly caught the eye of numerous colleges. He spent his freshman year at Frank Phillips College in Borger, Tex., and then transferred to Central Wyoming College (CWC) in Riverton, Wyo., where he got an Associates Degree in general studies. “All my basic classes are done, if I ever wanted to go on,” he said. Here, Zach met his future wife, Lindsay (Bierma), who competed in the barrel racing and goat tying. “We actually didn’t get along that good when we first met, but we came around,” he admitted. Under the watchful eye of Lindsay’s uncle and head coach Rick Smith, Zach spent two years at CWC. “I really liked it up here. Rick was a great coach,” said Zach. He was able to qualify for the CNFR two separate times, finishing fourth the first year. The following year, he was unable to attend due to torn stomach muscles, which put him out of competition for six months. In 2008, Zach qualified for his first DNCFR, but was unable to make the trip to Pocatello, Idaho, but worked his way in-and-out of the top 15 in the PRCA World Standings in 2009. “I was right on the bubble, so I figure that I better give it one more chance,” he said of one of the reasons for returning to rodeo.
Zach and Lindsay reside in Pavillion, Wyo., about 25 miles northwest of Riverton. The couple were married in 2009 at the Haythorn Ranch in Ogallala, Nebr., a connection through Lindsay’s high school rodeo days with Sage and Court.
Lindsay grew up in Stapleton, Nebr. Her grandparents had some land and they raised a few horses. “We mostly just had our rodeo horses,” said Lindsay. Her parents have recently moved to Arkansas, but when in Stapleton, her dad drove a truck and her mom worked at the Wal-Mart Distribution Center in North Platte. “I grew up rodeoing. I always loved horses and always have,” she said. After finishing up her two years at CWC, Lindsay attended the University of Wyoming to finish up her bachelors and masters in Speech Pathology. “I knew since eighth grade that I wanted to be a speech pathologist, because I knew how hard it was. I chose a field that is very dynamic – the whole medical side is something I had no idea I would be interested in. I see patients at the hospital here in Riverton and Lander, because there is such a shortage of speech pathologists. I really love my job.”
Zach works as a cowboy for a local ranch, when he’s home. The cattle are run in Dubois and for the past two summers, he has spent his time running the cattle in the high country. He also does a little bit of leather work, mostly just for close friends as a hobby and would like to start getting a few cows to start a herd. “I’ve also got some horses that I trained to keep going,” he said. Lindsay is a speech pathologist for an elementary school on the Wind River Reservation and had quit rodeoing when attending graduate school. “One of the biggest benefits of working in the school is having the summers off, going with Zach and staying home and getting some of my younger horses going,” she said. Lindsay is starting to get back into it and is currently working with a new barrel horse. “I don’t know what my time frame is in the next three years. Buying them young, it takes a lot of time,” she said. “She plans on starting out small and hitting some local jackpots to get him going. From there, I think she would like to move on to bigger and better associations. She’ll be done with work in a couple weeks, so hopefully if she can get her horses going we can go together to the regional rodeos” added a hopeful Zach. Lindsay is at a cross roads in her life and is throwing around the idea of going back to school to get her PhD. “It’s a life turning decision between that and rodeo. It looks like rodeo is going to win,” she testified.
Zach’s original goal for this season was to make the Wrangler National Finals. “This year has not been as good as last year. I got in a slump early and I’m working my way out of it. I figure that I’ll just get my qualifications built back up and go at it hard next year. I want to be able to get into everything,” said Zach. He is well on his way to doing that as he placed in the first round of the National Western Stock Show and Rodeo at the beginning of 2013 and made it back to the short-go. He will hit the road with Seth Hardwick and Casey Colletti for the rest of the season. Zach is up in Eagle Mountain City, Utah, next and has recently returned from the California rodeos. “I’ll work on the ranch for a while and my wife’s family has a horse sale [Bill and Carole Smith, Wyoming Quarter Horse Sale] coming up next weekend, which we’ll help with,” he said. “I worked for Bill the first summer I was hurt and spent the whole summer riding.”