TERRELL - Rock and roll has Elvis.

Baseball has the Great Bambino.

And in professional bull riding, there is Don Gay.

The eight-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world champion bucked his way into rodeo history in the 1970s-80s.

Gay is best recalled for climbing atop some of the meanest, rip-snortin', saliva-slinging 1,800-pound sides of beef the industry had to offer.

There's hardly an inch on his body that wasn't bruised or broken or bashed at one time over the years, but Gay always got back up, dusted off and continued chasing the win.

And that's what makes him more than simply an athlete - he's a cowboy.

"Rodeo isn't a sport; it's a lifestyle," Gay said. "It's a mindset. You want to see who is best … you can't be the best at anything until you're totally devoted to what you're doing."

 

AFFECTION FOR GLADEWATER

This dean of what some view as the most dangerous eight seconds in sports stepped away from the chute in 1989 and lives a less injury-prone life, soaking up sunsets from a sprawling, picturesque ranch outside Terrell.

In spite of his world successes, he is deeply rooted to East Texas and one of his longtime pet projects, the Gladewater Round Up Rodeo, remains a highlight in his current career chapter.

The ProRodeo Hall of Famer today wears many hats: announcer, commentator and businessman, enjoyng the benefits of a family business built through the efforts of his folks, Neal and Kay Gay; brothers Jim and Pete; and wife, Terri; that focuses on high quality stock and pageantry for family-friendly events, far and near.

The Gays are considered powerhouses in western entertainment, and Gladewater's beloved rodeo, now in its 79th year, is among the many benefactors.

Gay, a longtime competitor, said Gladewater does so well, because of a devoted committee of people who work all year getting things ready.

"It's an investment over time," he said. "They make sure everyone in that town is ready for rodeo week … it's the best in East Texas."

Likewise, folks in Gladewater seem grateful for the decades-old ties to one of rodeo's most enduring families.

"They (Gays) have the best bucking stock in the United States," event President James Moore said. "They eat and sleep rodeo. To have their caliber of expertise has made this show."

Gladewater's Round Up Rodeo kicks off at 8:15 pm. Wednesday with "Xtreme Bulls," featuring a lineup of the most energizing young competitors from around the United States.

Proceeds help fund college scholarships.

"We're expecting between 16,000 and 18,000 people to come see our rodeos," Moore said. "We'll be ready for them."

 

FAMILY TIES THAT BIND

Gay learned his cowboy ways from father, Neal, who is credited for starting the Mesquite Championship Rodeo in the 1950s and serving as a longtime producer of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.

Neal Gay, 89, also in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, is an industry icon.

His beloved Rafter G Rodeo Company is viewed as a type of rock star in stock contracting and rodeo production, and the elder Gay still prefers staying in the thick of the action as opposed to hugging the sidelines.

Raising reputable stock seems to be a family endeavor built on hard work, sore muscles and a long-held belief that quality doesn't come without sacrifice.

Neal Gay said his career in rodeo started when he was a young man, after a friend urged him to climb aboard a beast and see what happened.

"I got on a couple of bulls and said, ‘Heck, this ain't all bad,'" he said with a wink and a grin.

Neal Gay said he started winning, and a lifelong love of rodeo was born.

He eventually introduced his appreciation of the sport to his three sons and, as the years passed, the family's legacy in promotion, production and competition was sealed.

Their resulting list of combined honors and awards is long and seemingly without end.

For the world champion Gay, some of his most enduring accolades come from Terri Gay, his wife and soul mate of 39 years.

"I loved bull riding, and I loved watching him ride bulls," Mrs. Gay said. "I really didn't have a worry factor. He knew what he was doing, and he was really, really good at it."

The couple met as kids, at the rodeo, but it wasn't until they were older that romance bloomed. They have one daughter, Talli, a Mesquite educator.

Gay cites faith, family, friends and sponsors as the foundation of his enduring success.

But stubborn bulls with big egos get the credit for keeping things interesting.

"You learn how to ride, you learn how to protect yourself, and then you learn how to win," Gay said. "If you want something in life, you've got to get out there and work for it."

Twitter: @ TMT_Jacque

 

IF YOU GO

Tickets for the Gladewater Round-Up Rodeo may be purchased through or at the gate. Performances are set to begin at 8:15 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday at Gladewater Rodeo Arena on U.S. Highway 80, Gladewater.

Prices range from $7 to $14. For more information, call 903-845-5126.

 

 
 

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Jacque Hilburn-Simmons is an award-winning journalist who has been writing professionally for 30 years. She's a former police reporter who also wrote a book about the KFC murder. She shares stories about East Texas through her Behind the Wheel column.