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More friends than he ever knew
By Roger Fithian
http://www.casperstartribune.net

A note before I go to bed in tears.

The news of Chris LeDoux's passing, hit me like a brick wall. I was waiting at a bus stop for my kids to get home from school. Chills ran down my spine as I heard the news on the radio. This world has lost a man greater than most will ever realize. Sure, it happens now and then, like it did with Lane Frost. But for many of us, there could never ever be another man with the same impact to our lives as Chris LeDoux.

To so many who knew Chris, he was more than a champ, more than a singer, more than a guiding light, he was a best friend. Best friend in the way best friends are in Wyoming. A friend you could always count on.

I am a grown man of 43 years, and as I write this letter, my eyes begin to tear and my heart aches. Much the same way as when I lost my father to Lou Gehrig's disease 24 years ago, when he was 55.

Chris was there for me, to guide me across this United States, when I traveled the rodeo circuit years ago. He was that traveling partner many of us never had in real life -- the source of inspiration and the source of confidence. When I listened to Chris' music, on those long, lonely roadways, I knew that once I got to that rodeo I would ride that bull or bronc, and darned sure win. And thus my life would be so much more complete.

I know Chris would not know my name, but he might recognize the face from countless rodeos, dances, nightclubs, and even concerts. I remember one rodeo in particular. It happened to be at Kaycee, where Chris called home. I knew I had a good bull, one that had not been ridden all year. And after I rode the bull and spurred him as he made his rounds, the judges tallied the score -- a 76. I knew I wouldn't be in the money. But as I walked behind the chutes to hang up my rope, I glanced to the side at a man who was watching me. It was Chris. At that moment, that ride became something totally different to me, something a paycheck or a buckle would never have given me.

He didn't know me, nor did he speak to me. But I believed I had impressed him. The look he gave me, was of a job well done, and coming from Chris, that was more than gold.

Chris has guided not only me, but also my wife, my kids and my friends. My kids, who have never met Chris, are guided and inspired by his music and his confidence. My son, an outstanding hockey goalie, listens to Chris before most every game. My good friend is not with us anymore, but when I reach out for comfort, I will simply grab an old record or tape of Chris', and for a while, life will seem complete again.

I've ridden at the big shows like Denver and Cheyenne, and from this cowboy to you, I'm not sure I would have been the man I am today without Chris's influence in my rodeoing and my personal life. Men like Lane Frost and Chris LeDoux are few and far between, and the impact men like these have in our lives is immeasurable. He will live on in our hearts forever, and his legacy will continue to grow for generations. Lord how I miss the man, but I know he's still smiling, and he is at peace.

Roger Fithian is a cowboy, husband and father. He lives in Belgrade, Mont.