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February 24, 2007. Lake Powell. Water temperature 44 degrees.
When Randy Brooks’ airplane hit the surface of Lake Powell, a mile from shore, amazingly the craft held together. Brooks, his brother and a companion climbed onto the wing — a perch that quickly eroded into the frigid water.
An hour later, physically depleted and just a few dozen yards from the shore, Brooks began to sink. The weight of the cowboy boots and jeans he’d been unable to shed, the bone-chilling water and lengthy swim had taken their toll.
Before going under, Brooks saw his brother onshore waving his arms. Sinking, Brooks imagined his brother as a sports fan cheering on an athlete from the stands — a natural progression for a rodeo athlete.
As water seeped into his lungs and Brooks literally started to die, another vision, in slow motion, entered his subconscious — a natural progression for a sportsman.
The groaning breaths emitted by the lioness as she furiously charged Brooks, were audible.
Haaahhh … haaahhh … haaahhh … paws pounding the earth, muscles undulating, dust flying.
Killing her prey, to survive, was her singular intention.
Underwater, Brooks exhaled … haaahhh. The effort lifted him to the surface. Each miniscule, doggie-paddle-style stroke that followed was punctuated by a groaning “Haaahhh.” Stoke by stroke, breath by breath.
The lioness that had charged Brooks during an African hunt years before provided the inspiration, courage and strength he needed to cover the final distance to land.
“That hunt saved my life,” Brooks claims. “I lived because of that lioness’ inspiration.”
Others say Brooks’ tenacity is what saved him. His personal dictionary doesn’t include the words quit or negativity. When he’s knocked down, he scraps and scratches to get back up.
Brooks’ doggedness is evidenced in the success of his company, his marriage, his contributions to the traditional outdoor sports and even his successful return to the rodeo ring at 60-plus-years of age.
For most, a near-death experience is life altering. Brooks calls the plane crash a speed bump; further evidence of his nature. He refuses to let the incident define him or take control.
Brooks is a man of humble upbringing and one-liners, sayings that define what he calls his simple life.
You’ll hear Brooks say:
“Happy wife, happy life,” or
“A day’s pay for a day’s work,” or
“Don’t make life hard, keep it simple,” or
“Attitude shapes all we do and become.”
Yep, they sound like throwbacks to a different time, but he swears by each, and it ain’t bad or outdated advice he’s sharing.
Committed to his life-long marriage to Connie, Brooks says he lives to make her happy. When she’s happy, he’s thrilled.
Entitlement — he’s not a believer. He’s a worker, hard-core and happy about every minute of it. He’s in the office in the wee hours of the morning — loving the fact he can kick-off mid afternoon if he likes, but rarely does. He earns his keep.
Imagine this, Brooks and his wife Connie have missed about a half day’s work in 36 years.
“Heck, we’d rather be miserable working than miserable at home,” Brooks laments.
He’s suffered his share of adversity too, but learned from his grandfather early on how to handle it. You just have to do it, his grandfather told him. When you’re in battle, you just have to do it. On the farm, the cows need to be milked morning and night — it just has to be done. So, in life, don’t think of anything but getting it done, and you will.
True to character, Brooks takes little credit for his accomplishments.
“I have common sense, but not schooling,” Brooks shares. “But, the people around me are extraordinary. They make me what I am. From Connie, to my daughter Jessica, to our work family. We are blessed.”
He’s right, they are blessed. After roping for a living, Randy and Connie bought (1980), built and grew a profitable business, Barnes Bullets, which they recently sold — for some serious bucks.
But, even when there were just a few bucks to rub together, Randy and Connie were givers, believers in land access and wildlife conservation, and in helping everyone around them. They embraced their obligation as stewards of the land.
Their financial contributions, to many causes and organizations, have been substantial, but it’s their personal actions that define their champion status.
For instance, they bought a 600-acre parcel of land that was a run-down mess — littered with trash and scarred by 4-wheeler abuse. Clean up alone took two years. Then rehab and wildlife habitat restoration began — and continues. And, the Brooks offer open access, by foot or horseback, to their natural paradise.
Still at the helm of Barnes, as president, and serving many conservation efforts, Brooks also has come full circle. He’s back in the rodeo ring, ropin’ and bringing in checks. He doesn’t need to rope — he wants to rope. He loves getting out there, looking at the tough, young cowboys and thinking, “I’m gonna kick your butt!”
Aim high and shoot straight. Another simple Brooks axiom. Most folks know what Brooks means when he writes it, but if he thinks the recipient doesn’t, he readily explains:
It’s a simple life plan, and it pays off.
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