Cowboy Up

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A Valley calf-roping star’s lifelong fight to thrive despite disability is tested again after a debilitating accident.
Boyd Smith is a man of resolve. Born in Phoenix with no arms and only one fully developed leg, he has lived an honest and hardworking life. He started riding horses at 15 years old and spent decades as a landscaper and respected team calf-roper, and has the belt buckles to prove it.

Smith is known throughout the Valley for his drive to overcome his physical limitations, proving himself through his success in a laborious outdoor job and the even-tougher hobby of calf-roping, but now he faces the greatest challenge of them all. Last May, the 56-year-old saved his wife, stepdaughter and her three children from a fire in their modular home in Black Canyon City and was severely burned in the process. His wife, Diana “D.D.” Smith, cries when she talks about the night he almost died.

“He woke up at one o’clock in the morning,” she says, wringing her hands. “He had yelled for the kids to get up, and he only had his [prosthetic] leg on, he didn’t have his arms on, and he was right behind me. He said ‘go get the horses’ and, for some reason, he didn’t come out after me.”

D.D.’s voice cracks at the point in the story where she lost him.

“I heard him screaming. I’ll never forget that.” The floor collapsed behind the front door; they pulled him out onto a horse blanket in the dirt as the three kids watched, standing barefoot in their pajamas. They still don’t know how the fire started.

Now Smith lies in the Arizona Burn Center at Maricopa Medical Center, where D.D. visits him every day. Left with third-degree burns on almost 90 percent of his body and essentially skinless, Smith is barely conscious due to his pain medicine, but on days of lesser doses he looks D.D. in the eye, nods, and even smiles when his grandkids sing to him on the phone. Once, he mouthed, “I love you.”
D.D. and her daughter Christy Roberts laugh when they talk about Smith’s personality – a dry sense of humor, to be sure, and bossy. But assertiveness pays off: Most people with such severe burns don’t live one day, says nurse Sherrice Morgan, and Smith has survived months.

“One day his daughter brought us a cake, and on this cake it had a picture of him and he looked like the ultimate alpha male in his dungarees and his cowboy boots and his hat,” Morgan says, laughing.

Smith’s biggest fan is his 6-year-old grandson, Landon, who often mimics Smith’s limp and even the way he shrugs and taps his wrists while unlocking his prosthetic hooks.

In his 20s, Smith took lessons with famous cowboy Walt Woodard and practiced at Dynamite Arena in Cave Creek, learning how to use his hooks to hold and throw ropes to catch the heels of a calf, while his partner roped the head. One of his best friends, Judy Thompson, says that Boyd won his fair share of local ropings and often garnered “a big hand and three or four hollers from people in the audience” for his enthusiasm and skill.  He loved roping and other competitors loved roping with him.

To say that the accident has been tough on the family is an epic understatement. D.D. moved into Roberts’ apartment in Mesa, where she sleeps on a twin bed in the office, and her other two daughters’ families make eight sharing a house in Glendale. Boyd had two health insurance plans, but the house and his three newest prosthetic limbs (worth $100,000 each) were destroyed, and as of August 10, he had undergone 21 surgeries.

“The bills haven’t hit yet, so I’m sure we’re going to be bankrupt after this is done,” D.D. says. She can’t estimate the amount of the impending debt, but financial worries pale next  to her concerns for Boyd. If all goes well, he’ll start rehabilitation this month.

In the midst of their grief, D.D. and Roberts say they realized the fire happened for a reason when they were sorting through the wreckage. Only two small walls remained, near which they found his favorite award belt buckles; his power of attorney for D.D.; his wallet, intact with credit cards and insurance information inside; and a box of family photos.

Another keepsake among the rubble was one of Boyd’s trophies, all melted except for the metal plaque that read “to the man that never quits,” which D.D. carries in her purse.

“To the man that never quits,” she repeats. “That’s Boyd Smith.”

Boyd Smith is known by many in the Valley for his rodeo talent, work ethic, unwavering faith and unbeatable spirit. Here’s how you can reach out.

Charity Rodeo: Sept. 29
In true Smith style, there will be a rodeo involving roping and a silent auction to benefit the family, held at the Arizona Horse Lovers Park in Phoenix. Raffle tickets will be available at feed stores and veterinary clinics. 

Donate to the family
Information on Boyd, a CNN interview video with Christy and a means for donation can be found at Anyone with a Facebook account can also comment on that page.