SHERIDAN — Mary Dowling turned 93 this year. Of those 93 years, Dowling has attended and supported the Sheridan WYO Rodeo since the 1960s. This year, while she still attended Friday and Saturday nights during Rodeo Week, Dowling had the rodeo brought to her via a world champion cowboy.
Sheridan WYO Rodeo board member Tracy Swanson hand-delivered Tyson Durfey, a world champion roper, to Dowling’s front doorstep right after he finished competing in rodeo slack Wednesday morning. Because of Dowling’s years of dedication to the event, Swanson convinced Durfey, friends and acquaintances through the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit and both of the men’s involvement with the Sheridan WYO Rodeo. Swanson and Dowling also boast a longstanding friendship — Swanson even attended Dowling’s 90th birthday party.
Just after noon Wednesday, Swanson and Durfey stood on the steps of Dowling’s Thurmond Street home. Durfey dictated to his doting fans — via video captured by Swanson — the surprise visit to a lifelong fan of the rodeo. A swift opening of the front door led to Dowling breaking into nearly immediate tears of joy and laughter as she ushered the men into her home.
Dowling shared her history as a rodeo attendee. She experienced her first Sheridan WYO Rodeo as a young girl, being born and raised in Sheridan, and became a season ticket holder with her late husband in the 1960s. Ever since, she’s held six tickets for each night of the rodeo, which she gladly shares with friends and family who visit her during Sheridan’s most bustling week of the year. At 93 years old, Dowling no longer feels up to attending four nights but instead has dropped down to two nights each year. Those years of attending have included interesting neighbors in the grandstands and decades of religiously following cowboys through the PRCA rodeo circuit.
Dowling shared photos of Tommy Lee Jones, who with his wife occupied the seats next to the Dowlings during the rodeo one year. Another year, Dowling whispered excitedly to her husband that David Brinkley — NBC and ABC newscaster from 1943 to 1997 — shared breathing air with them in their boxed seats.
The fame of her fellow rodeo attendees paled in comparison to the now-fulfilled promise Swanson had made to Dowling.
“(Swanson) told me he was going to bring me a cowboy, I thought he was kidding me,” Dowling told Durfey with a chuckle.
“Well, you’ve been asking me for a cowboy for years,” Swanson replied.
“I have, I have,” Dowling said.
Swanson called Dowling and, once again, told her he’d be bringing her a cowboy. This time, though, he followed through and hand-delivered a decorated athlete.
Durfey grew up in Savannah, Missouri, training horses with his father and brothers, according to a Priefert.com biography. His PRCA career began in 2003. Durfey has earned three Canadian World Championships, one “American Rodeo” championship in 2014, six qualifications to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada, and earned a world-championship finish in 2016 for tie-down roping.
Durfey and Dowling connected on the basis of faith they both follow. Durfey’s platform as a rodeo cowboy also gives him the chance to reach out as a motivational speaker through social media and other outlets. He keeps faith at the forefront of his work and shares it with his followers.
As Dowling begins to plan her 100th birthday, she invited Durfey to pay a visit when the time comes as an honored guest only if Tom Selleck can’t make it.
As Dowling eagerly prepares to follow her newfound friend into his NFR appearances, she will cherish the surprise of befriending a Sheridan WYO Rodeo cowboy to start her 2019 rodeo week. As she pulls on a pair of Levi’s on her way to the rodeo Saturday night, she’ll leave the cowboy hat, boots and charm to the professionals.