Life is a lot like a game of darts, isn’t it? You are the dartboard and life is the dart thrower, continuously flinging them at you.

Your job is not to avoid the darts, even though some of them hit very close to the heart. No, your job is to endure the pain, make the best of the situation and excel as best you can.

I interviewed a dartboard recently for an upcoming episode of “Wild Rides” on the Cowboy Channel. His name is Wade Sundell and he is a rodeo world champion.

You’d think that once you become a world champion that you’d have everything in rodeo figured out. But that’s never the case. Rodeo is one heck of a dart thrower and maybe even the best there is.

Then, while on top of the world and a fan favorite, Sundell, who is from Iowa, got a call one day telling him that his house had burnt to the ground and with it every rodeo trophy, saddle, plaque or award he’d ever won. It was a real dart to the heart.

Worse yet, that home had been his refuge, his place of peace and his oasis. And we understand that because we also spend a lot of time on the road.

You see, when you are a top rodeo cowboy away from home for months at a time, you are never alone, you are constantly surrounded by people and are seldom able to wrap your head around the dart game. So you need an oasis, a quiet familiar place to go to, to work things through and figure out how to deal with the darts. But his was gone.

Nevertheless, he endured and won his world title that year and yet, there were worse darts to come.

On Aug. 24, 2019, Sundell was competing at the Rancho Mission Viejo Rodeo in San Juan Capistrano, California. He was aboard a bronc that reared up in the chute and smashed Sundell in the chest. The impact tore Sundell’s liver in half and filled his body with blood. It also awarded him with a less than 10% chance to live.

That was Sundell’s worst dart to date. And it was also when Sundell checked out for 14 days to who knows where. His dartboard was still there absorbing the darts but he wasn’t. He found a place of solitude that even he can’t get back to again.

There were many more days in the hospital to come and a long period of healing. But once again, that dartboard endured it all, got back on a bronc and rediscovered that it is where he is supposed to be.

Are things just like they were before? Of course not, because you can’t absorb a lifetime worth of darts and still be the same dartboard. “My core is just not as strong,” he told me.

And yet, apparently it is strong enough because Sundell is on his way back to the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in early December to compete, once again, for a world title. And the fans that have always loved his carefree, wild, outlaw attitude are just going to love him that much more.

Because the fact is, Wade Sundell is one great dartboard.

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Kevin Holten is a columnist and executive producer of “Special Cowboy Moments” on RFD-TV.

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