This article originally appeared in the January 31, 2015 edition of the Wise County Messenger.
Ask any parent who lets their child participate in sports, and they’ll tell you their biggest fear is seeing their child get hurt.
For Diran and Kellie Lancaster of Bowie, that fear became a reality last year when their 12-year-old son, Dane, was critically injured at the Future Stars Roping competition in Shawnee, Okla.
“We were calf roping, and when Dane came out of the box, his horse tripped over the rope and swung out to the right and flipped over,” Kellie said, the memory filling her eyes with tears. “And then Dane got trampled underneath.”
What followed was a blur of ambulance rides, hospitals and cautious prognoses for the family.
Dane was flown to the Intensive Care Unit at the University of Oklahoma’s trauma care center with skull and traumatic brain injuries.
“For about a week, there was a lot of uncertainty, but Diran and I just refused to believe that he was going to be taken away,” Kellie said. “And Dane doesn’t remember most of it, which I’m glad for.”
Dane spent six days on a ventilator at OU and another eight days at the hospital after that. At one point his entire left side was paralyzed and he couldn’t speak.
“The doctors called it a ‘neurological storm,’ basically where his nervous system gets so agitated and traumatized that it just doesn’t function properly,” Kellie said, struggling to finish the sentence.
After about two weeks in the hospital, Dane was transferred to Baylor Childrens’ House for rehabilitation. The entire process was marked by doctors who tried to ease Diran and Kellie into what might happen to their son.
“We were told everything from, ‘His left side will be paralyzed forever’ to ‘His speech will always be difficult, if he ever speaks again,’” Diran said. “One doctor told us we needed to start considering what nursing facility we would want to put Dane in.”
“I fired her,” said Kellie, who runs a chiropractic clinic with her husband. “We dealt with that from the get-go.
“When we first arrived at the ICU the day it happened, the doctors would try to temper our expectations. That’s when Diran stopped him and said, ‘I just want to tell you – I have no faith in man or medicine. God’s going to heal my child.’”
DRIVEN TO SUCCEED
Whether the credit goes to God, doctors or a combination of the two, the bottom line is that Dane is healed today and back in the stock show arena.
Stories of his determination abound. There’s the time when, before his accident, he let two calves get away in a roping competition. That night, Diran said, Dane stayed up on their back porch in his pajamas, roping a dummy.
“He said, ‘I’m not missing two calves again,’” Diran recalled.
Or there’s the story of how Dane refused to use the wheelchair or the handicapped sticker he was sent home from the hospital with, because he didn’t want to be coddled as a handicapped person.
“This is nothing but a setback to him – he just sees it all as motivation,” Diran said.
Dane was released from the hospital in August, and his recovery process has been one day at a time.
On the day I visit him and his family, he’s at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo preparing to show his Hereford heifer, Happy. He’s wearing the standard cowboy uniform – black cowboy hat, black shirt tucked into his blue jeans, with boots.
He also wears an orange wristband from the Rising Star roping competition – the next step after the Future Star competition. It’s his reminder of why he competes in the first place.
“That’s always been the goal,” he said.
His speech is deliberate and assured. Talking to him, you wouldn’t know that just six months ago, he had trouble forming words.
“The day they told us he wouldn’t be able to talk again, I just sat up all night praying, hoping that it wouldn’t be true,” Diran said.
The very next day, at physical therapy, Dane spoke his first word since his accident – “brown,” the color of his horse, Rudy – and from then on, his recovery snowballed. He stopped eating through a feeding tube and started walking, jumping and exercising.
Vision is the only thing he struggles with now, and he’s working on that.
He’s shown Happy in another competition before the Fort Worth show. But his goal has always been to get back to roping.
The wristband reminds him of that.
“We made probably about 140 trips back and forth from Bowie to Dallas for physical therapy, but it was worth it to see him improve so much,” Diran said.
Last Thanksgiving, Dane was invited to the Rising Star competition in Duncan, Okla., to be recognized. He told his dad he wanted to go back as a competitor this Thanksgiving. When he was recognized, the event organizers tried to get him to rope a cow dummy, but Dane told them no.
“He said if he was coming back, he was going to rope for good,” Diran said. “He’s very driven.”
The Lancasters are no stranger to athletics. Diran was a football player at Texas Tech and an Olympic weight lifter; Kellie did ballet. Dane won a powerlifting championship under his father’s tutelage at the age of 7. His older brother, Pierce, also powerlifted with their dad and plays high school sports.
Competition is in this family’s blood. That tenacity, as well as their faith, sustained them throughout this ordeal.
“He just loves life, and it’s a humbling place to be his mom, because I really know that God has a plan for him, and I’ve just got this backseat view of the show. He’s the most confident, at ease, I’m-gonna-do-it kind of kid I’ve ever met in my life.”
Dane has been working on roping with his left hand, another skill he can add to his repertoire. His drive to succeed is apparent, especially by the way his eyes light up when he talks about roping.
“That’s what I want to do when I grow up, is to rope professionally,” he said. “Bull riding just seems kind of crazy to me.”
Dane also wants to impact future safety measures in the arena. Since the accident, he hasn’t roped without a helmet on his head, something that sets him apart from other ropers.
“Our saying now is ‘Get on the horse, take off the hat,’” Dane said. “The hat is mostly what people think of when they think of a cowboy, but I always wear my helmet.”
Kellie said she didn’t think twice when Dane said he wanted to ride again.
“Other moms will ask me if I would let him back on a horse after all this, and my answer to that is, ‘How do you deny someone what they were born to do?’ He wears a helmet, sure, but he’s back out there,” Kellie said.
Both Diran and Kellie said their faith was the biggest thing that got them through the ordeal.
“The big phrase we kept repeating throughout all of this was ‘Sunday’s Coming,’” Diran said.
The phrase comes from something his father used to say when Diran was younger. “If something bad was going on, he’d say, ‘Oh, it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming,’ in reference to Jesus being crucified on Friday and it was a bad, dark day, but He knew He was coming back on Sunday.”
They weren’t alone in their praying, either – a “Prayers for Dane Lancaster” Facebook page that Kellie updates daily with Dane’s progress currently has more than 100,000 followers.
People from all over have now been exposed to Dane’s story.
“At one point, there were more than 70 men in the ICU kneeling and praying for my son, and they didn’t have to, but they did,” Kellie said. “It was amazing. And you know, you aways see on the news, all of the bad stuff in the world, shock and awe and all that.
“But if you want to believe there’s good people in the world, take a look at the rodeo family,” she said. “It’s been an amazing, humbling journey. We’re very blessed and very humbled.”
As for Dane, he is just happy to be alive and able to continue participating in the sport he loves.
“It makes me feel a little different,” was all he said about the media attention.
He doesn’t let the attention get to him – or if it does, it doesn’t show. He stays focused on his roping competition in November.
“It takes a lot of practice, and I still make sure I practice every day,” he said.
Watching his son practice his riding technique later in the week, Diran tells me one more story about Dane.
“He’s created this scenario in his head for when he’s older,” he says. “It’s the final round of the NFR Championships, and for some reason his right hand has been injured and he’s forced to rope with his left. And then he comes back and wins the championship because he learned to rope with his left hand as a result of his injury.
“So that’s his vision.”
The day when Dane wins a championship might come sooner than he thinks.
It might even be on a Sunday.