When Eagle Mountain cowboy Garth Heap recovered enough from his terrifying 2015 rodeo accident to begin his return to the sport the next year, he got into roping.
But he faced a challenge as he looked to compete in the team roping competition.
“I started roping with him because I wanted to help him out,” Maddie Roche, a junior at Cyprus High School, said on Friday. “There were people who didn’t want to rope with him because he had the accident, who were worried that they wouldn’t qualify for state because he couldn’t rope as well as others could. But I believed in him, believed he could do it.”
Now a year and a half later, the journey for Heap and Roche drew to a close as they completed their final competition Friday night at the 2018 Utah State High School Rodeo Finals in Heber City.
“I’m sad that this is the last night we have to rope together,” Roche said. “He’s my best bud. It’s been awesome. I’m glad I had the opportunity to rope with him.”
Heap started out as a saddle-bronc rider but during a rodeo at Price as a freshman, his foot got caught in the stirrup and he got kicked in the head.
The trauma resulted in him actually being medically dead in the arena before being revived and taken to the hospital, where he was in a coma for 10 days, had half of his skull out for 19 days and spent a total of two months.
But as he struggled on the long road to recovery, he never lost sight of his dream to return to rodeo. He turned to roping and eventually started working with Roche.
There were some rocky times early for the duo but as they got used to roping together, they found more and more success.
“We started catching and catching and catching,” Roche said. “Then on his birthday last year, we qualified for state. We were super-stoked. That was like the best day ever.”
Things didn’t go as well as they had hoped at the 2017 finals but Roche said Heap always helps keep things in perspective.
“Roping with him, I’ve taken a step back,” Roche said. “I’ve been doing well in goat-tying and my goal was to go to nationals. I put so much pressure on myself — but Garth just wants to have fun. I realized I needed to be more like Garth. He taught me to calm down, that this is more about having fun. He’s helped me realize that life could be a lot worse than it is now. He put life in perspective.”
There were still some frustrations for Heap, including being medically required to wear a helmet during competition.
“He doesn’t love wearing the helmet and didn’t feel like he fit in,” Roche said. “I had seen Jake Barnes wear a helmet that was built into a hat and I thought we could hook him up with that helmet. As soon as he got that hat, he felt like he was going to fit in. That’s what he really wants is to be like all the rest of the kids who wear their normal hats.”
Roche said her favorite memory of roping with Heap came at the Dixie 6 rodeo this year.
“The wind was blowing like 100 miles per hour,” Roche said. “We were getting outrun (by the steer), so Garth just chucks all of his rope out there. He dallies up, flying across the arena, and I just catch 2 feet and we get qualified for state. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’ I could not believe it. It was craziness. Garth was on Cloud 9. It was the best.”
It’s been quite a journey for Heap and Roche, who have seen a lot of ups and downs during their time as team-ropers.
“He’s come so far,” Roche said. “We’ve come a long ways. He was always worried he would disappoint me. He’s become more confident with his roping and riding. It’s been a real blessing to rope with him.”
Heap now has to face the reality of moving on with his life.
“I was excited to graduate from high school, but the only thing I was sad about was high school rodeo because it is so fun,” Heap said.
He said he plans to go to school and learn welding, as well as participate in the occasional rodeo.
“I’m going to work and go to college, but I’m still going to rope every once in a while,” Heap said. “I might go to jackpots (anyone can enter, pay an entree fee and rope as many times as you want to win prizes) and maybe enter a couple of RMPRA events (a mid-level rodeo association) with my dad. It will be fun.”
Roche is confident her friend has good things in his future.
“I’m excited to see where he’s going to go,” Roche said. “He’s faced obstacles, but he’s going to go to college and do welding. After that big accident, he’s come further than anyone ever would’ve expected. I think it’s going to be great.”
Heap hopes other high school rodeo athletes appreciate where they are and what they get to do.
“When kids are in rodeo, I would tell them that if they mess up to not get mad at themselves or their animals,” Heap said. “Be happy to be rodeoing. I would also tell them to appreciate their family. If they get hurt, I would tell them to not give up. I just love rodeo, which is why I didn’t give up.”