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Unbroken: Paralyzed Bull Rider’s Wife Stays True to Her Man

Tiffany_Jerome

Photo courtesy of Tiffany Davis

 By Jimmy Tomlin/High Point Enterprise

ARCHDALE — Tiffany Davis stood in disbelief as a doctor, who knew absolutely nothing about her, casually insulted her with a single, dismissive comment.

It happened in March 1998 at a hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, where her fiance — world champion bull rider Jerome Davis, of Archdale — lay paralyzed from the chest down because of a broken neck, courtesy of a bull that had flung him rudely into the dirt of a Fort Worth arena during a competition.

The bull, though, wasn’t nearly as rude as the doctor, who was discussing Jerome’s grim prognosis with his mother, Pam, while completely ignoring Tiffany. Noticing the slight, Pam pointed to her future daughter-in-law and said, “This is Tiffany, Jerome’s fiance.”
The doctor gave Tiffany, who was then 23, only a cursory glance, then turned back to Pam.
“Yeah, well,” he said, “only about 10 percent of those stay.”

Tiffany’s jaw dropped. She didn’t respond at the time, but she’s never forgotten that moment. “He never looked at me again,” she says. “I remember thinking, ‘Well, that was rude, ya jerk.”

The doctor’s point may have been accurate — it’s not uncommon for significant others to end a relationship when faced with the prospect of being a paraplegic’s caregiver for the rest of their lives — but Tiffany didn’t appreciate being lumped into that cold statistic.

“I guess he had a reason for saying that,” she says, “but you don’t judge somebody like that.”In fact, the doctor didn’t judge Tiffany — he misjudged her.

Sixteen years later, the young woman snubbed by the doctor is still with Jerome — they’re husband and wife now, as well as best friends and business partners — which, if you believe the doctor’s statistic, puts Tiffany among the faithful 10 percent who stay. She’s also been Jerome’s primary caregiver all those years.

Which just goes to show she’s far more than just the good-looking cowgirl Jerome spotted at a horse sale about a quarter-century ago, when they were just teenagers. By any standards — including Jerome’s — it means Tiffany is as tough as, well, a bull rider.

* * * *

Today, Jerome and Tiffany are 42 and 39, respectively, and they are immeasurably happy. You can see it in their faces and hear it in their voices, just as clearly as you can hear their distinctive Southern drawls.

They live in a western-themed, handicap-accessible, three-story log cabin, which includes an elevator, on their expansive property in Archdale. From their home, they can see some of the pastureland where they raise bulls and train them to buck — yes, ironically, they’re playing for the other team now. They can also see the grandstand of Davis Ranch Arena, where they host a few rodeo events every year, including the 16th Annual Jerome Davis PBR Invitational, the longest-running outdoor event in Professional Bull Riders history.

They also spend long, exhausting hours on the road, taking their bulls to competitions across the country — not that they’re complaining, you understand, because it’s what they live for.

“We’ve not had a vacation in over four years,” Tiffany says. “It’s a lot of hard work, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world — we love it. That’s why you don’t mind when you haven’t had a vacation in four years — if you’re doing something you love, you don’t need a vacation.”

This certainly isn’t the life they envisioned for themselves 20 years ago, when their already-close friendship blossomed into romance.

Jerome, who’d been riding bulls since age 11, was a quickly rising star on the national bull-riding circuit. With nicknames such as Jerome Danger and The Carolina Cowboy — and the uncanny skills to match the flashy names — he was a marketer’s dream as he began winning competitions. In 1995, he shook up the rodeo world when he won a coveted gold buckle as the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) World Bull Riding Champion, the first rider from east of the Mississippi to claim that title. By 1998, the year he was injured, Jerome was pulling in close to $500,000 a year in purses and endorsements.

Meanwhile, Tiffany — who had grown up around her father’s rodeo business and couldn’t get enough of being a cowgirl — had become Jerome’s righthand man, so to speak. Because he was one of only a few riders from the East Coast, it was hard finding other riders to travel out west with him, so Tiffany volunteered to go to competitions with him as often as she could.

“Back then when he was riding, after he’d get off a bull one night, he’d be entered in another state the next day and he’d have to drive all night to get there,” she recalls. “So I would help him drive so he could sleep, and so he wouldn’t be by himself.”

Even then, it seemed Tiffany was always there for him.

She was there in Fort Worth on March 14, 1998, to see the “wreck” — rodeo lingo for a fall — that would change their lives. After saying a prayer for Jerome’s safety — Tiffany’s customary pre-ride routine — she watched as a rowdy bull named Knock ‘Em Out John did just that to Jerome, tossing him after about five seconds and knocking him unconscious.
She covered her eyes a moment, then uncovered them to watch Jerome get up and dust himself off, as he’d done after so many wrecks that had looked much worse than this one.

Except he didn’t get up. This time, he left the arena not on his feet, but on a stretcher.
She was there beside the ambulance, as Jerome was about to be transported to the hospital. She remembers that he couldn’t feel his legs, and he kept asking her to remove his riding glove, which had already been removed — a sign that he couldn’t feel his hand. She comforted her fiance and told him he’d be OK, but she saw the fear in his eyes, a fear she’d never seen before.

She was there at the hospital, when the severity of Jerome’s injuries — and the bleakness of his prognosis — became clear. He would never ride a bull again. He would never even walk again. He would need around-the-clock care.

Jerome, ever the humble, giving country boy Tiffany had fallen in love with, encouraged his fiancee to leave him — just as that rude doctor had suggested she would do — so she wouldn’t have to be a caregiver the rest of her life.

“I knew deep down inside that it would probably be better for her, just because it was gonna be a lot on her,” he says. “And it has been a lot — it’s not been an easy road at all.”
Tiffany interjects, “You knew I wasn’t going nowhere, though — that’s why you said it.”
Jerome nods his head, laughing.

“Nah, I didn’t mean it — I didn’t want her to leave,” he admits. “But I knew it was the right thing to do. I needed to give her an out.” Tiffany says leaving never crossed her mind, not even when Jerome gave her the chance.

“We were best friends before we ever started dating, and you wouldn’t leave your best friend in a situation like that,” she explains. “So I told him to hush up, and that was the end of that.”

Seven months later, they got married.

* * * *

The week leading up to Labor Day weekend always gets crazy at the Davises’ ranch, as final preparations are made for the annual Jerome Davis PBR Invitational. “It’s kind of my baby, you might say,” Jerome says.

“When I got hurt and was in the hospital in ’98, I was going crazy laying in there thinking, ‘What am I gonna do when I leave here?’ They’re telling me I’m gonna have about 15 to 20 percent of my body that works, and that’s it. So while I was laying there, I started this bull ride — calling up sponsors and lining up guys to come out and ride the bulls — and it was kinda my therapy. Ever since the very first one, when we didn’t have enough seats for everybody, we knew we were on to something good, and every year it’s just gotten a little bit bigger.”

Jerome knows the event features his name and draws on his fame, but he’s quick to give his wife the acclaim.

“There’s no doubt,” he says. “Tiff takes on a lot of roles, from helping do a lot of the secretary stuff to working on the sponsors to getting tickets out. Now she’s taking on some of the bull stuff, too, taking care of the bulls and helping feed them and flanking them.”

Flanking refers to tying a strap around a bull’s flank, a technique that encourages the bull to buck with his hind legs as it tries to throw off a rider. It obviously involves getting up-close and personal with a 2,000-pound beast, but Tiffany seems to relish the job, climbing onto the bucking chutes and flanking the couple’s bulls whenever they take them to a competition.

She was there, for example, when their bull Super Freak won the 2008 American Heritage competition, earning them a cool $96,000 purse.

Tiffany’s favorite event, though, is next month’s Christian Junior Rodeo, an annual one-day rodeo that draws as many as 500 youths from more than a dozen states. The only entry fee is to attend a church service held at the outdoor arena, and the price of admission is two cans of food, which go to Community Outreach of Archdale-Trinity for distribution to needy families.

“This is our way of giving back to the community, because when Jerome got hurt, the community did so much for us,” Tiffany says. “We’re going to do this for as long as we can, because we like helping our community. And there’s a lot of people, kids and adults, who got saved through the church service.”

Tiffany’s hard work has not gone unnoticed in the bull-riding community. Four years ago, she won the PBR’s inaugural Sharon Shoulders Award for her commitment to her husband and to the world of bull-riding. Named for the wife of legendary bull rider Jim Shoulders, the award recognizes the women whose contributions have been as integral to the sport as the riders themselves.

“That was a really, really big deal,” Tiffany says. “You know how Jerome has his world-championship gold buckle? Well, this is kinda like my gold buckle.”

Everything that has happened to Tiffany — from meeting Jerome to his life-changing accident to the couple’s successful bull-raising business — has been part of God’s plan, she believes.

“It goes back to knowing God’s in control,” she says.

“One of the things I thought when Jerome got hurt was, ‘Why Jerome? He’s one of the good guys — he was good for God to have out there as a bull rider.’ I didn’t understand it at first, but as my faith has grown, I can see how many more people he’s probably helped by being in the wheelchair and inspiring people than if he’d went off and won another two or three gold buckles. I can step back and see that now.”

Article provided by  Jimmy Tomlin/High Point Enterprise. To view original source, click here.