By: Keith Ryan Cartwright
There’s no better word than faith to associate with Stacey Custer.
She’s relied on faith for her entire adult life.
Faith gave her the clarity to so quickly realize when she had met the man who would become her husband. It was faith that helped her to compartmentalize the worry and dangers of being married to a professional bull rider. Faith helped to raise a house with three children and to move from Louisiana to Arizona and later from there to Oklahoma.
And, of course, she leaned heavily on faith three years ago when she and Cody lost their oldest son.
“Since I’ve come to a different place in my relationship spiritually,” she explained, “that’s the only thing I’ve known to do to get through life. It ties into every area of life. You have to trust something and I know there are some people who don’t believe like we believe and I’m good with that, but even with them, they need to have something or someone that they trust. That’s just life.
“We have to rely on trust.”
The story of Stacey Custer, who in October will receive this year’s Sharon Shoulders Award, begins and ends with her family’s faith.
Stacey Dupuis was born and raised in Jennings, Louisiana.
In 1989, she was living with Kent and Missy Richard in nearby Welsh when she first met Cody Custer over the phone in the fall of that year.
Kent and Cody traveled together on the rodeo trail. She asked Missy about him, while he asked Kent the same. Stacey said that in an era that predated social media by two decades she obviously had an easier time of learning more about him having read about Cody in recent issues of Pro Rodeo Sports News than he did her.
Before long Cody was calling the Richard house not to talk with Kent, but to chat on a near-daily basis with Stacey.
They didn’t meet in-person for a couple of months when they went on their first date—a church service in Lake Charles, Louisiana, on New Year’s Eve.
Richard had ridden at a rodeo in Texas on Dec. 30, and, with his wife and Stacey along for the trip, he picked up Cody in Dallas.
Stacey said, “The place I was at spiritually, I had really been praying about who this guy was and how things were supposed to go and everything else. Honestly, before I really ever even met him I kind of had a feeling that he was the one.”
Cody stayed in Louisiana for about 10 days – “we spent a lot of time talking” – and one night near the end of his first trip, while he sat on the end of Stacey’s bed, she thought, “I think this is the man I’m going to spend the rest of my life with.”
“By the end of January I asked her to marry me,” Cody recalled.
However, as she recalled, “let me put it to you this way, he didn’t ask me to marry him. What he said was – I hope he didn’t try to go and make it all gushy and romantic, when he told you about it because it was nothing like that, at all – what he said was, ‘Well, I guess, we should make everybody happy and get married.’ That’s how he put it.”
She added, “Everyone was saying, ‘This is it. This is it.’ So that was his way of asking. … That’s basically how it went, the romantic guy that he is.”
With another issue of Pro Rodeo Sports News as their guide, providing them with the upcoming rodeo schedule, they chose June 3 as a wedding date. A day later, on June 4, they packed their belongings and headed west to Wickensburg, Arizona, and stopped at a few rodeos along the way, where Cody was entered in the bull riding.
She soon found a church to join after engaging in a conversation with a couple she met a local Ace Hardware store.
For just over six months they lived next door to his parents until they found a place of their own, where they raised three kids – Aaron, Lacey and Brett – before eventually moving to Elk City, Oklahoma, where they’ve lived just south of town for the past seven years.
Being married to a bull rider may seem glamorous to some girls, but it’s not.
In fact, being married isn’t easy. Being young and being married to a bull rider only compounds the difficulty.
“You need to fully understand what you’re getting yourself into,” she said, when asked what advice she has after 24-plus years of marriage. “It’s one thing to know, but it’s another thing to live it—to be home for three weeks at a time by yourself with three kids, robbing Peter to pay Paul and trying to keep (Cody financially) out (on the rodeo trail).
“Yes, as a wife, you’re supposed to come first, but you go up against this mistress of rodeo or bull riding and you have to understand it’s not all peaches and cream.
“There has to be a huge trust between husband and wife,” she continued. “There are temptations anywhere, but when you’re gone and, well, I know they don’t have to be gone as much anymore. But you really need to keep the lines of communication open. It seems all glamorous. I thought I knew, but you don’t truly know until you work through it and you have to be willing to work through those hard times. At times that sport is going to take precedent over your relationship.”
Cody said he believes a woman has to already be “independent” if she plans to marry a bull rider.
“I’m very thankful for my wife,” Cody said.
“She’s from Louisiana and the idea of a Cajun woman,” Wiley Petersen said, “that’s Stacey.”
He added, “She has a feisty side to her. She can hold her own, but is very loving. … They showed me what love should be and what trust is and they worked together. They worked well together.”
Early on in their marriage, Stacey would travel with Cody from time to time if there was money to afford the opportunity or if he happened to be headed back toward Louisiana, so she could visit her family.
But it wasn’t always easy to make ends meet.
When times were tough she took on a job substitute teaching and when it got tougher she got a second job waitressing or doing whatever it took to help keep the bills paid.
Aaron was born in March 1993 – a few months after Cody won the PRCA world title in December 1992 – and Lacey was born in October the following year. Cody succumbed to the pressure of being a World Champion and ultimately struggled through a series of injuries over the next five years, but, fortunately, he was home to help raise the first babies. He was back on the rodeo trail and competing in the PBR by the time their youngest son Brett was born four years later in February 1998.
“She sure picked up the slack when I wasn’t able to make a great living riding bulls,” Cody said.
The early part of the 1999 season was tough as well.
“She supported him all the way,” Petersen said, “and gave him the freedom to be as successful as he could be. That’s what every man needs, especially when you’re riding bulls. When you have a dangerous job like that you have to your wife’s support. She was the foundation of the family. She was the rock.”
“Well, she’s a school teacher, so she’s pretty direct about what she thinks,” said Cody, who recalled complaining about “all the little potheads winning all the money,” while he tried to do the right thing to support his family. “She doesn’t really beat around the bush.”
She had always been supportive and encouraging, especially during slumps.
This time was different.
Aaron was just old enough to go on the road with Cody, while Stacey stayed home with the youngest two and was working two jobs. She heard one complaint too many.
“Finally I just told him, ‘you have two choices. You can stay out there and keep whining and complaining and doing what you’re doing or quit and come home,’” Stacey said. “‘I’m trying to juggle bills, trying to figure out what to pay, trying to figure out how to keep you on the road and all I hear is you call me and complain about almost making the whistle and you don’t know what you’re doing wrong and everything else.’ I said, ‘Either figure it out or come home and get a job because I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this.’”
“And, yeah, immediately after that I started winning,” Cody said. “She was pretty—it set things in perspective for me, you know. She basically told me to grow up, quit whining and get my crap together.”
A few weeks later he won the bull riding at Cheyenne Frontier Days.
Cody, who in addition to winning a world title in 1992, was an eight-time NFR qualifier, one of 20 PBR cofounders and a nine-time PBR World Finals qualifier, gave the buckle to his then six-year-old son Aaron.
“It’s the only time in his 16, 17-year career that I told him, ‘You either need to crap or get off the pot,’” Stacey added. “I didn’t even mean it. For me, it was throwing his words back at him.”
A combination of faith and hard work carried them through the tough financial times.
However, Stacey relied on her faith when it came to being married to an athlete who competed in the most dangerous sport in the world.
Just like a rider compartmentalizing the danger of what he does, so too does the wife and eventually their family. It’s why Ring of Honor members like Ty Murray and Bobby Steiner have said they could have never competed had they been fathers.
It can, if you let it, take an emotional toll.
“I knew the only thing I could do – the only thing that was in my control – was putting him in God’s hands,” said Stacey, who would pray for his safety prior to each performance. “I know that, that sounds cheesy, but that was where my peace came from.
“That’s all I could do was trust God.”
When he finally retired following the 2003 season, they were supposed to live happily ever after as a family of five in Elk City.
And they were.
Their kids were growing up and pursuing sports. All three would rodeo and they’d load up as family and travel to youth events. Aaron also played football in high school and, in 2011, he graduated and was getting ready to go off to college when his life was tragically cut short in a single-car accident that also claimed the life of his friend Ed Drury.
A third 18-year-old boy Shane Frey survived.
Faith led Stacey and her family through the difficult time.
“I prayed over my children the same thing over my children that I prayed over him and, no, you don’t think you’re going to lose a child,” said Stacey, who later added, “It’s brought us closer together as a family because we love each other and we have to rely on each other. We know how short life is.”
Because of rodeo and bull riding, the Custer family has a large circle of friends.
Within that circle are smaller, tighter circles.
“I was in shock,” recalled Petersen, of the message he received from Cody early the next morning. “I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Wait a minute, your son Aaron?’ There are no words that describe the pain you feel for them.”
He added, “As much love as you have for that family, you just want all the best for them.”
“Those same people have walked us through and held our hand for the last three years in a way that we wouldn’t have been able to make it through without them,” she said. “It’s not as hard today as it was two days ago, but it may be harder in a week. I don’t ever know.”
Cody said, “Aaron was a big part of our faith and our understanding and the way we related to people.”
“If you knew us in 1990 and you know us today,” he continued, “we’re a lot different people in the way we think, in the way we believe. Our faith is in the same God, but our walking it out is quite a bit different. Everything evolves into what it is.”
Like his wife, Cody has learned to keep some of it to himself.
They matured as people, as a couple, as parents and as a family.
He’s no longer “trying to convert the world,” whereas she’s always been a little less outspoken.
Stacey lost her mother when she was only 18 years old and as difficult as that it pales in comparison to having lost a child, but 32 years later she now understands why her 92-year-old grandmother still grieves.
It’s new understanding of what she went through.
Kids will be kids, but Lacey and Brett have come to understand why their parents, especially Stacey, have come to rely on the peace of mind in knowing where they are. Lacey is in college and, no, they don’t know where she is at all times, but they’ve come to appreciate her checking in.
Just the same, Stacey is not restricting Brett from riding bulls.
“Brett gets on bulls and she doesn’t question any of it,” Cody explained. “She just leaves us alone about it, she’s real good at allowing us to be who we are as bull riders. I can compartmentalize that for me, but for my kid, I have a hard time with it. She probably has the advantage over me when it comes to allowing our kid to be a bull rider.”
“I’ve never once even thought about telling Brett he can’t do what he loves to do,” Stacey said. “I never did it with Cody and I won’t do it with him. I don’t want to be that one to take something away because of my fear.”
Much like Sharon Shoulders – the namesake of this award – Stacey is described by those who know her has dignified, honorable and well-respected.
She blushes at the thought of being given such an award.
And she’s so thankful that Shoulders called to give her the news. In fact, in some ways, that in and of itself means as much or more as the actual award.
To Stacey, she’s simply a wife and a mother.
According to the PBR, the Sharon Shoulders Award was conceived by former PBR CEO Randy Bernard and created in 2009 to honor the women who have made a difference in the sport of bull riding. Shoulders is recognized for her support and encouragement of her late husband Jim Shoulders, the celebrated cowboy and bull rider who was inducted as a member of the first class in the PBR Ring of Honor in 1996.
In addition to Shoulders, previous recipients include Tiffany Davis (2010), Leanne Lambert (2011), Jackie Dunn (2012) and Flavia Moraes (2013).
“My wife fits that,” Cody said, “plus she had to put up with a dumb-ass bull rider.”
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