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Lane Frost: The legend lives on

Lane Frost Spanish Fork Utah

[PHOTO] UP TO THE CHALLENGE: Lane loved waving to the crowd after a big ride. Here, he shows fans in Spanish Fork, Utah, some love after riding Red Rock on July 25, 1988 to break the tie and win the Challenge of Champions, which pitted the 1987 world champion bull rider against Don Kish and John Growney’s 1987 world champion bull. Final score—Lane: 4; Red Rock: 3. The biggest winner in the beloved match was the sport itself.  Sue Rosoff Photo

By Kendra Santos, PRCA Director of Communications

Not Lane. That’s what we were all thinking 25 years ago this week when the fog of disbelief started to clear, and we were forced to face the fact that rodeo’s golden boy was really gone. He took a hit that didn’t look that bad, as fast as it happened and by Lane’s standards. Lane Frost was notoriously tough, and we’d all seen him walk away from so many wrecks that looked so much worse. 

The black clouds had boiled in over the Wyoming prairie and dumped rain on that massive arena at the Daddy of ’em All—the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo—on July 30, 1989. We’d all been joking around behind the bucking chutes before the short round started that day—Lane Frost, Tuff Hedeman, the late George Michael of NBC’s George Michael Sports Machine fame, photographer Sue Rosoff and me, for starters. George was teasing Lane, and we were all laughing and excited about what the afternoon might bring.

Something happened on a chartered plane earlier in the week, which is part of Lane’s story I’ve never shared publicly before. Because I know the punchline means so much to Lane’s wonderful parents, Clyde and Elsie—it’s time. Lane, who knew no boundaries when it came to people—regardless of age, race, religion or which end of the rodeo arena they worked—made a round-trip on that little plane with four of my roping icon friends, Jake Barnes, Clay O’Brien Cooper, Dee Pickett and Allen Bach.

Lane Frost on a pay phone, photo by Sue Rosoff
LAST CALL: Our photographer friend Sue Rosoff has always had a gift for capturing candid moments and making them memorable. Here’s Lane on the pay phone at Cheyenne. By all accounts, Lane was called way too soon. Sue Rosoff Photo
They flew from Cheyenne to Mitchell, Neb., and back. They didn’t start team roping at Cheyenne until 2001, but Clay O was roping calves and bulldogging at The Daddy, and there were other rodeos in the area where they all team roped that week.

“Lane was unique,” Clay said. “He was just so personable to everybody, and he treated everybody the same. There were no barriers with Lane. I think of him as always having a smile on his face. He just had a genuine friendliness about him.”

We all remember exactly where we were when Lane died. That day to rodeo was what losing Elvis was to rock and roll. “Jake and I were up at Rock Springs (Wyo.) the Sunday Lane died at Cheyenne,” Clay said. “We heard about it on the radio, and were in complete shock. We’d just been with him. It was surreal. “

Lane caught several rides to rodeos with Allen the last couple years of his life. “He’d ask me where I was going and offer to help me drive,” Allen remembers. “I saw Lane again at Wolf Point later that week. What happened that Sunday was such a shock. I couldn’t believe I’d seen him for the last time.”

Allen was crushed like the rest of us, but found peace from a conversation he’d just had with Lane on that plane. “Lane elbowed me and said, ‘Hey, I did it,’ ” Allen said. “I said, ‘Did what?’ ‘I accepted the Lord into my life.’ I had shared my faith with Lane, because it’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me. He listened to me in the most honest and pure way. Before that, he’d told me he wasn’t there yet, but that he wanted to hear more. It means a lot to all of us who loved Lane that he got there before he left us.”

I think it’s really what has saved Clyde and Elsie, who make their home in Lane, Okla. Lane—who’d be 50 now—has been hanging out in Heaven the last quarter century. While we were all a bit bummed at some of the Hollywood fiction added to Lane’s real-life story in the movie “8 Seconds”—particularly the part about Clyde never being satisfied with Lane, which was never even a tiny bit true—we’ve all come to realize over time just how much that movie’s done to keep Lane’s legacy alive, and even bring struggling families closer together.

Bulldogger Ote Berry was another of Lane’s many timed-event friends. Ote made the short round at Cheyenne 14 times in his ProRodeo Hall of Fame career, including 1989. So he was there the day the music died, too.

Lane Frost and Kendra SantosLane Frost and Kendra Santos at the 1987 NFR. Sue Rosoff Photo 
“Cheyenne’s one of my favorite rodeos,” Ote said. “I like the old, traditional rodeos with big, outdoor arenas—the Cheyennes, Salinases and Renos. Everybody who knew Lane always turned to watch when his name was called. He was just a charismatic character, and he could really ride. We were all glad to call him a friend, and anyone who ever met him once felt like he was a genuine friend. That smile—the laughter.

“It seemed like Lane always hit on his head after the whistle. That was one of his better dismounts that day—or so we thought. It didn’t look that bad from the timed-event end, and I’d seen him walk away from 100 worse get-offs. It’s still just amazing to me that that ended his life. It seemed like just a glancing blow. It’s one of those deals that kind of goes to show you when it’s your time, it’s your time.

“We knew they hauled him out, but nobody thought the worst. I can remember the buzz going through there. I don’t think anybody believed it or wanted to believe it. We were all shocked and stunned. We didn’t believe that could happen to Lane. At the time we thought it was tragic. Now when I reflect on it I think back on how lucky he was. He died doing what he loved, in his prime, a (1987) world champion, and at the top of his game. He didn’t have to get old. We’ve all had friends and family who went through cancer and suffered. We all miss Lane, but he didn’t suffer. What a great way to go. We miss him, but him sticking around wasn’t in the plan. Everybody has a destiny, and Lane went out on top.”

Like Ote, I was at the timed-event end when it happened. I took off for the bucking chutes, and when I was almost there was stopped by the sight of another bull rider, Abe Morris, leaned up against a fencepost crying. I walked over and put my hand on his back. “They say Lane didn’t make it,” he managed. I whirled around and took off running. I got there just in time to see Lane loaded into the ambulance and Tuff jump in there with him before they slammed the door. I ran to my truck and headed to the hospital.

ProRodeo Hall of Fame bronc rider Tom Reeves grabbed me and hugged me in the parking lot. He couldn’t talk. He was sobbing. I took off running for the front door of that hospital, and just as I ran up the steps, Cody Lambert staggered out those doors on the brink of collapse. That’s when I really knew.

Tuff has always told me Lane was gone in the arena. Medics and doctors tried everything modern medicine had to offer in the arena, in the medic room behind the chutes, in the ambulance and at that hospital. But it was Lane’s time to go.

“I can’t remember what I did two days ago, but I remember every detail of that day, right down to what shirt I wore,” Tuff told me, when he called late the other night from Cheyenne. “I was right there when he was pronounced dead, and it was 3:31 p.m. The last thing I remember was looking up and I was the only guy in the room with him. There was a big syringe that they’d had in his mouth. Everybody had left and that syringe was still in his mouth. So I took it out. I kissed him on the forehead and said, ‘See you, buddy.’ ”

Tuff then called Clyde and Elsie. Elsie hollered at Clyde, who was out working. His first question was whether it was a plane or a car. Clyde and Elsie returned to the Daddy in Cheyenne this summer, too. Elsie spoke at Cowboy Church, where Susie McEntire-Eaton sang “Green Pastures,” just like she did the day we buried Lane.

“I’m glad we’re here at Cheyenne,” Elsie said to me. “It’s kind of surreal. I keep looking at the chutes, wondering which one he came out of. I feel like I can almost see Lane in the arena, out there in the dirt. It’s hard to be here, but it’s good to be here.”

People still walk up to Clyde and Elsie with tears in their eyes—sad because they miss Lane, or sorry they never had the chance. His parents are amazed and humbled every time. “God gave Lane that personality that drew people to him, because God knew the big picture,” Elsie said. “Lane did a lot of living in 25 years. He was always in a hurry. It’s almost like he knew he didn’t have enough time to do all he wanted to do. Lane didn’t walk to the barn. He ran to the barn.” He used to dive into the spaghetti Elsie would have waiting for him in the refrigerator without even heating it up.

We’re all bonded for life by Lane. I now gauge my best friends in this world on who would actually run into a burning building for me—and me for them. Tuff’s on that short list. So are Kellie and Mike Macy. I got to know Kellie when she was married to Lane. I got to know Macy when he was team roping at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. I love them, I love that they found each other in the world, and now I love their kids, Aaron and Brogan, too. I was there the other day to see Aaron win a couple rounds in the team roping at the California Rodeo in Salinas. Aaron and I sat on the ramp of World Champ Jade Corkill’s trailer together a couple nights there, and talked into the night with Jade while he wore a hole in that hard ground roping his sawhorse a few thousand times.

We were all having so much fun back behind the bucking chutes at Cheyenne in 1989. The late and (so great to us) George Michael became our dear friend, and helped rodeo get mainstream media attention. George loved Lane and Tuff, and interviewed them the day Lane died.
We were all having so much fun back behind the bucking chutes at Cheyenne in 1989. The late and (so great to us) George Michael became our dear friend, and helped rodeo get mainstream media attention. George loved Lane and Tuff, and interviewed them the day Lane died. Sue Rosoff Photo
I got to spend some time with Lane’s cousins and Utah bull riding brothers Joe and Josh Frost, who are also cousins to my sons, Lane and Taylor, at Salinas, too. We celebrated Joe’s 22nd birthday with him moving up to 12th in the world standings, and when Josh flew back in to Salinas for the short round late Saturday night, and caught a ride from the airport in San Jose with bulldogger Trevor Knowles—just like Lane would have done—he camped with my dad and me.

Tuff was always a little rougher around the edges than Lane. There were plenty of times when he harassed the baby-kissing politician also known as Lane. He was kidding, of course. Well, kind of. Tuff knew from the first time he met Lane at the 1980 National High School Finals Rodeo in Yakima, Wash., that Lane was special. “He was already the guy, and everyone was in awe of him when we were in high school,” Tuff said.

Knowing Lane—and losing Lane—changed Tuff. He still tells it like he sees it, which I love. But since Lane left us Tuff’s been the last guy out there every single time, signing autographs and thanking every fan while looking him or her in the eye. I’ve been there, and he will not leave until the last person there is happy.

“The one thing I learned from Lane more than anything is to be good to people,” said Tuff, who named his first son Lane (Trevor’s awesome also). “I became the guy you’re supposed to be, because that’s who Lane taught me to be. Your job is always to be nice and respectful to people, unless they give you a reason not to be. It’s pretty simple. I’ve taught my kids the same thing.

“Lane always said (their fellow ProRodeo Hall of Fame bull rider) Freckles (Brown, whom Lane idolized) told him it’s easier and more fun to make people smile than to make them frown. Lane was genuinely a good guy, and he promoted what we did in a positive way. We were both very competitive and always wanted to win, but we had fun. Lane changed me more than anyone else ever.”

Tuff wasn’t always known for niceties, but after they’d driven all night from Salt Lake City to get there for the Cheyenne short round that day—and Lane was catching a few winks in their hotel room because he’d taken the last shift behind the wheel—Tuff brought him breakfast in bed.

“Details of that day are forever etched in my mind,” Tuff said. In the ambulance, Tuff told Lane, “You have to try hard.” Tuff describes the medical staffs in the arena, in the medic room, in the ambulance and at the hospital as, “Frantic. They were trying everything to bring him back, but there was never any response.”

Lane Frost and Red Rocks
Lane and Red Rock loved each other. They were both fierce competitors who wanted to win, but they kept the fight fair. And outside the arena, they were great friends. Red Rock loved Lane’s back scratches. Sue Rosoff Photo
Tuff’s with Ote and all the rest of us who knew and loved Lane. “It was way too short and happened way too soon, but it was a pretty great exit, really,” Tuff said. “He kicked ass and took names at the Daddy of ’em All, then he left. We’re all going to go sometime, and he was never sick or miserable. He didn’t have to waste away in a bed for months and months, like some people have to. Lane had a great life. He did exactly what he wanted to do. Losing Lane is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my whole life. I still think about him every day.”

We all miss Lane and think about him all the time. Like I told NFR team roper Broc Cresta’s best friends when I spoke at his service after he died suddenly—also at 25 and also at Cheyenne, on July 28, 2012—I’ve been there. Only I was like an aunt to Broc, whereas I was a sister to Lane. I had 23 years’ experience to promise them that while it’ll never be easy, they’ll never forget him. And like Lane, Broc will live inside every heart lucky enough to have loved him the rest of our lives.

What would Lane be doing right now? He really wanted a ranch, and was in the process of making that happen when he left. Elsie laughs and says she knows he’d be bald by now, because his hair was thinning. Garth Brooks’ song “The Dance” will forever be Lane’s song to me. Garth included Lane in his video alongside other “American icons who died for a dream”—President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., John Wayne, country singer Keith Whitley and the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Unforgettable.

“Our lives are better left to chance. I could have missed the pain. But I’d have had to miss the dance.”

See more about Lane Frost including video interviews, rodeo footage and more at . 

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