Cowboys are known for their strength, toughness and resiliency. Brian Baldwin has drawn on all those traits to survive stage 4 cancer, a head-on collision, devastating rodeo injuries and addiction to prescription medications.
His inspirational story, "Every Scar Has Its Journey," is featured on an upcoming episode of "Special Cowboy Moments" on RFD-TV. (The channel's name is a reference to Rural Free Delivery, the name for the United States Postal Service's system of delivering mail directly to rural patrons.)
"Special Cowboy Moments" captures the stories of rodeo legends, up-and-comers and "the cowboy way." Baldwin's story airs at 7:30 p.m. March 14 and March 21.
He also hopes to share his inspiring story of hope and faith through motivational speaking engagements.
Baldwin said he intends to spend the rest of his life sharing the message that we can overcome many different things. "Helping others is my whole goal, because I've been blessed and I want others to know they can be blessed too."
Baldwin was born and raised in Delta. "I was blessed to have a great cowboy, horseman and outdoorsman for a father, and two older brothers to compete against and push me every step of the way," he said.
At a young age, he began competing in Little Briches rodeo events. In 1976, he had the chance to meet the late, great Chris LeDoux and from that day on he dreamed of following in LeDoux's footsteps and becoming a PRCA world champion.
Baldwin was a four-time high school national finals rodeo qualifier in bareback riding, bullriding and team roping. In 1980, he became the national champion high school bareback rider at the age of 18. He graduated from Delta High School in 1980, attended college briefly (majoring in rodeo and girls) and then hit the road, traveling across western and southwestern U.S. to compete in rodeo. "No matter where you go or at what level you compete, rodeo is a family!" he said.
In April 1981, at the age of 19, he was hit head-on by a drunk driver. The accident put him in the Aspen Valley Hospital for four straight months, including 21 days in a coma. When he was finally released from the hospital, he began four years of grueling physical therapy.
"Quitting was not an option even though the doctors told me I would not compete in rodeo again. That was the wrong thing to tell this cowboy," he said.
He dug deep, found his true grit, and four years later finished third in bareback. But after a very colorful, but injury-filled 13-year career, Baldwin was forced to give up his dream of becoming a world champion. He married and became the father of a baby girl.
Then at the age of 41, he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer known as salivary duct carcinoma. The prognosis was devastating -- Baldwin was told he had just six months to live.
After going through a painful divorce, Baldwin gave up custody of his daughter so he could focus on saving his life.
After two major surgeries, three years of chemotherapy and 47 trips to the radiation table, Baldwin found himself among an elite group of folks who have beaten stage 4 cancer.
Tears come to his eyes as Baldwin shares his journey -- a journey he often acts out, to capture the emotions he experienced, from depression to happiness. At the end, "I'm totally spent because I want people to feel it just like I felt it."
Baldwin found an outlet for his story when he met up with a friend from Idaho, Kelly Wardell, who was featured on "Special Cowboy Moments" after he returned to bareback competition at the age of 51.
Wardell said, "Brian, they need to run your story, not mine." Wardell reached out to the producers of "Special Cowboy Moments," and they asked to meet Baldwin at the National Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas. A 3.5-hour interview has been edited to the half-hour episode to be aired March 14 and 21.
Baldwin remains grateful to his mother, friends and family members who stood by his side throughout his cancer treatment.
"It was the love and sympathy they gave me that made me want to try harder to live after the doctor told me I had approximately six months to live," he said. "I never went to a doctor's appointment or chemo treatment alone. Each member of my family took time out of their days to be with me so I was never alone; the love that showed me was so big. It tears me up to think about it right now."
Baldwin is also humbled by the recollection of a benefit rodeo and silent auction held at the Rimrock Arena in Fruita. Over 5,000 spectators showed up for the event, which drew rodeo contestants from 18 different states. His goal is to be able to pay for another rodeo, in the same venue, called the Brian Baldwin Thank You Rodeo to thank everyone who helped him during his time of need. With the proceeds from his speaking engagements, he would like to be able to pay for the stock, prize money and a barbecue.
Baldwin is supplementing his income as an Aflac benefits advisor while he develops a website and begins spreading his message on social media. It's a message he first jotted down six years ago:
"It's time for me to give back by sharing my life story. Trials and tribulations are not a test to be tolerated but a trust to be treasured. My body carries the proof of my life's trauma through scars, but every scar tells a story and every scar has its own journey."