Rex Cleary still riding, roping at 85
November 25, 2017
When the dust settled at the Douglas County Fairgrounds arena on July 15, Rex Cleary had taken first-place in the Carson Valley Roping Club team roping No. 4 category competition.
Winning a team roping competition is no easy feat at any age. Winning at age 85 is especially noteworthy.
Rodeo in general, and team roping in particular, gives echoes of the nostalgic Old West, when horses were vitally important to society, especially ranching segments.
Current team roping is an event in modern rodeo. In roping competitions, a rider and horse is teamed with another rider and horse. Each rider has a rope (lasso). One rider (header) ropes the steer's head and slows and turns the steer. The other (heeler) ropes the steer's moving hind feet. The objective is to catch the head and then the rear feet of the steer in the quickest time.
Each roper has a skill number, somewhat analogous to a golfer's handicap. Current roping competitions group together ropers with roughly similar skill levels. Moms and dads, sons and daughters, grandparents, all enjoy teaming with one another, and competing. It has evolved into a family competitive sport.
Rex is a 1949 graduate of Douglas County High School, where he was involved with 4-H and FFA. He also played football, a halfback and team captain as a senior for Hall of Fame coach Walt Powers, and inducted into the school's Football Hall of Fame in 2009, plus he played basketball.
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Rex started roping in the 1950s. In that decade, he was a Nevada Cowboys Association state champion in team roping as a header. In the 1960s, he was a state champion in tie-down roping in the Montana Rodeo Association. (Tie-down roping is a different event featuring only one rider and horse.)
Roping is a hobby, a competitive sport that Rex loves. It requires horsemanship, strength, agility, keen eyesight and a highly developed skill in throwing a rope. The partnership between rider and horse, and the honing of their mutual athleticism, is important.
Roping has kept Rex more limber and has kept his muscles more toned.
Rex is now a heeler. Heeling requires an extra measure of skill to catch the moving rear feet of the steer. For a heeler, the more years of experience, the better.
Like a golfer is motivated to keep his golf game sharp, Rex is motivated to keep his roping skills sharp.
Rex won the July 15 competition at the Douglas County Fairgrounds with his son, something that makes the win even sweeter. Rex has also won when roping with a grandson.
Rex is not finished with the sport. Not by a long shot. He received recognition at the recent Carson Valley Roping Club banquet held at the J T Basque Bar & Dining Room and he is looking forward to more years of fun, Lord willing.
He looks forward to the American Cowboy Team Roping Association (ACTRA) annual autumn regional and national competitions. (The organization's national finals are in Reno each October).
Rex's wife of nearly 60 years, Alice Cleary is a remarkable story as well. She still hosts family reunions of 30-plus people with grace. A few years ago, she retorted with a smile, "It's a pain to grow old," as she lifted a 45-pound saddle above shoulder height onto a horse, for her grandchildren, grand-nieces and nephews to ride. She was making a light-hearted comment about aches and pains that come with mature age. The rarity of being able to saddle the horse, at her age, didn't cross her mind.
This piece is written by Rex's family to recognize his success. His success is an inspiration to anyone who wants to accomplish worthy things. Age doesn't have to be a roadblock. If you want to pursue a dream, pursue it.
Unlike other sports, team roping is a sport you can do as long as you can still ride a horse, and still throw a rope. The idea of winning the next roping competition keeps him motivated. To compete and win makes him feel like he is expressing "aliveness."