There are senior tours for golf, tennis, billiards, and bowling -- sports that are normally not identified with broken clavicles, necks, and spines. In other words, sports that have nothing to do with rodeos.
On the phone with Darrell Parker, 69, a Point, Texas, resident and defending National Senior Pro Rodeo Association (NSPRA) World Champion 68+ calf roper. Follows is what Parker does, better than anyone else, as described by NSPRA. "After the calf is given a head start, horse and rider give chase. The contestant ropes the calf, then dismounts and runs to the animal. After catching and flanking the calf, the cowboy ties any three of the animal's legs together using a small rope.... When the cowboy completes his tie, he throws his hands in the air as a signal to the judge. He then remounts his horse and they take a step or two forward, which allows the rope to become slack while the calf remains tied. The run is declared invalid if the calf kicks free within six seconds."
I wanted to know how long he'd been at it.
"Quite a while...most of my life," says Parker. "I started roping calves when I was 34 years old, but I'd ridden bucking horses and stuff before that."
"What was rodeo like 40 years ago?"
Parker laughs, "Pretty much the same. The contestants were a little bit different, a little wilder. It's more of a business now. It was a way of life then, a carefree deal for young people."
Carefree left the country in 1998. "Is there enough money in the senior tour to make a living? Can the 20th-best guy, 25th-best guy pay his rent off it?"
"No; it's like going on vacation and taking all your friends with you and maybe win a little money, too."
Parker drove a truck for Safeway most of his life. He worked out of Portland, Oregon, and rodeoed in the Northwest Professional Rodeo Association on the side. After retiring from Safeway, Parker started competing in senior rodeos and traveling around the West. He found -- or ran into -- "a place big enough to keep horses on" in Point, Texas. He bought it and is going about the business of living happily ever after.
A simple observation. "Everybody I've ever met who participated in rodeos has broken bones. More than that. Everybody has something that hurts all the time. How about you?"
"Most of them get broken bones in riding events, not roping calves," Parker says. "I haven't had any injuries that kept me from roping, although I'm getting slower all the time. I can't get off the horse and get down there quick enough, but, in the seniors, we rope a little smaller calves."
"What is this 68-plus group for calf roping? Seems like an odd age for a category." (NSPRA also has a 40s group, 50s group, and 60s group.)
"They let guys come into the 60s group when they're 59 years old," Parker says, "if they're going to be 60 before the end of the year. When you get up around 68 it's hard to compete with them younger guys. So, they created a 68-plus group so guys could rope calves a little longer."
"How many ropers in the 68-plus category?"
"Depends on the rodeo. Sometimes you might see six or seven other guys; sometimes you might have 20."
"How many rodeos did you make last year?"
Whoa. "That's a lot. Close to one every ten days."
"We have a run coming up, two in Utah and six in Nevada. There'll be eight rodeos in 11 days. And I'm going to Arizona next month. There's one rodeo in Buckeye, two at Globe, one at Phoenix, one at Wickenberg, and one at Goodyear."
I smile, thinking of the rodeo in Lakeside. "I like small rodeos. Men driving campers or trucks, pulling horse trailers, driving into a dusty dirt parking lot on a Friday night. Everybody stands in a circle, drinks beer, bullshits with their buddies, rodeo the next day, drive off to another rodeo, stand around, drink beer, and so on. Is the senior tour like that?"
"Yeah; they do a lot of that in the seniors. They have a lot of potluck dinners and things like that."
"How about horses? Do you train yours or buy one that's been broken in by someone else?"
"I've done both. The one I've got now I've trained. The other one was semi-trained, but..." Silence. "After I had him a year, he was a lot better horse than he was when I got him. I won a lot of money on him, but he run into a fence and killed himself."
"Yeah, he was playing; I don't know what he was thinking of. He was drinking water and my son's dog run in and nicked him on the heels. He just turned and run right into the fence."