Blind calf roper spreads message of never giving up

CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth/Jerry Long of Capitan shakes the hand of Jonah Walls, 7, while talking to him and his mother Valda Walls, both of Texico, Tuesday evening at the Texico Educational Complex.

By Gary Mitchell

Jerry Long caught his friend by surprise a little more than four years ago when he said he could do a better job at roping a calf.
“All right,” the friend said, “you’ve been talking you could do this and do that. I wanna see what you can do. There’s a horse and a saddle, and I’ll tie these bells on a steer, and we’ll see what you can do.”
Long, 56 at the time, had been riding horses and roping since he was 5. But this time was different. This was the first time he’d ridden since going blind from diabetes 10 years earlier.
“I climbed on that horse, and my heart was in my throat,” he said. “But after a few runs, I realized I hadn’t lost my riding skills. I couldn’t see my horse’s head, and that was a little apprehensive, but I just followed his lead.”
Long roped two of the seven steers he tried that day, and it launched another riding and roping career for him. Since then, he and his team-roping partner have placed in several team roping events throughout the Southwest.
The Capitan cowboy, now 60, told his story Tuesday evening at the Texico Educational Complex auditorium.
He urged his audience to “try, try, try and try again” when faced with adversity.
“I would sit around in a dark room — all my rooms are dark now — feeling sorry for myself,” he said. “I kept asking, ‘Why me?’ And you know, the Good Lord didn’t call me up and ask me, ‘Jerry, what do you think about being blind next week?’ He didn’t ask me. And I still may not know why.”
Long eventually made a decision to try to get a job.
After a number of tries, he landed one as a transition coordinator for the Texas School for the Blind in Austin, Texas.
“Try is a big deal,” he said. “You won’t accomplish anything if you don’t try.”
Long likes to talk about heroes.
“You and I can be a hero — by doing the right thing,” he said. “You gotta kinda earn it. You don’t have to do anything earthshattering or big — just do the right thing.”
He is a hero for some.
Joe Rhodes, owner of Joe’s Boot Shop, described Long as a “special person.”
“I met him at the Lincoln County Symposium. He was roping, and he caught every time. He didn’t miss,” Rhodes said.
Tuff Pinnell, a cattle rancher and former rodeo cowboy from Melrose, called Long’s presentation “interesting.”
“I’m an old roper myself, so I know how difficult it can be for somebody who has good eyes,” he said.
“He’s a prime example of ‘try,’ ” said Pinnell’s wife, Joan.
Long said he doesn’t know if he has inspired any other blind cowboys to take up roping.
“I don’t know if I’ve inspired anybody to do anything,” he said. “All of us are impaired in some way. We’ve all got weaknesses. If I’ve inspired anyone to rise above their adversities, then it’s worth it.”