Sharon at ranch

Sharon Shoulders is the longtime wife of a rodeo champion.

Sharon Shoulders and Donna McSpadden have been friends for as long as they can remember, and if you have the opportunity to engage them in conversation, they’ll make you feel like a longtime friend too. The two women, both in their 80s, have much in common – their kindred spirits, unwavering faith, hard work ethic and an insatiable desire to help others in need.

Jim Shoulders won various titles throughout his career as a rodeo champion.

Jim Shoulders won various titles throughout his career as a rodeo champion.

Rodeo Wives

The most interesting bond they share, however, comes from their past. Both Shoulders and McSpadden spent the majority of their lives married to rodeo men. Shoulders’ husband was 16-time world champion cowboy Jim Shoulders, who has been called the Babe Ruth of rodeo for his success in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Throughout his career, Jim starred in advertisements.

McSpadden’s husband was Clem McSpadden, a U.S. Congressman and member of the Oklahoma Senate, who was involved in rodeos throughout North America as an announcer, including at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. Jim passed away in 2007, and Clem followed in 2008.

“Jim and Clem were like brothers,” says McSpadden, who lives in Chelsea. “Sharon knew my husband before she knew me, but we’ve been friends for more than 50 years. She’s a lovely, beautiful person.”

As any rodeo wife will tell you, it isn’t easy being married to a rodeo man.

“Being married to a cowboy is hard because they are gone a lot, and that can take a toll on marriages,” says Shoulders, who lives in Henryetta. “Jim always wanted to be a rancher and bought a ranch in Henryetta as soon as he had enough money. That meant someone had to stay home and be responsible for the ranch, and I was kind of a pioneer because I learned how to ranch the hard way.”

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Jim and Sharon had four children, and in the summer when school was out, Sharon and the children traveled with him whenever possible.

“Jim managed to include us as much as he could, and he’d come home as often as possible,” Shoulders says. “The other cowboys would tease him because if he had a couple days off, he’d always come home.”

Clem McSpadden also traveled a lot, juggling his career as a politician with rodeo announcing.

“With Clem having been in Congress, he always said he didn’t know which profession should be more important than the other, because there was bull in both of them,” McSpadden says, laughing. “He was such a good, easygoing person, and he had a dry sense of humor.”

Donna McSpadden, far left, and Sharon Shoulders, third from left, started The H.A.N.D.S in 2009.

Donna McSpadden, far left, and Sharon Shoulders, third from left, started The H.A.N.D.S in 2009.

The H.A.N.D.S. Organization

After losing a mutual friend in Texas, McSpadden and Shoulders gathered some friends and formed a charitable organization called The H.A.N.D.S. in 2003, which stands for Helping Another Needy Diva Survive. It has grown to include 50 rodeo wives across the nation who help rodeo families with expenses and care during injuries, illnesses and hard times.

“Driving back from our friend’s funeral in Texas, I thought there should be a way for people to organize help during times of need – not just all show up at one time and then leave the surviving partner with all the cleaning, packing, disposing of things, cooking and so on,” McSpadden says. “The H.A.N.D.S. provides a way for each of us to sign up to help a person in need and be what a friend should be.”

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McSpadden knows that sorrow all too well. After losing Clem in 2008, their son, Bart, died unexpectedly of a heart attack in 2014.

“My friends and family very much reached out to me,” she says. “You don’t have to be part of an organization to help someone. It’s amazing what a thoughtful card can do for someone who is grieving, and you can include an inspirational book or plaque.”

When someone is injured or killed in the rodeo arena, The H.A.N.D.S. members unite to organize help, sometimes by delivering meals, sometimes financially – other times by just being there.

Sharon Shoulders Award

That kind of servant’s heart that prevails among rodeo wives is one reason why the Professional Bull Riders (PBR) association created the Sharon Shoulders Award in 2009. It recognizes the great women of professional bull riding – those whose behind-the-scenes work, partnership and faith are as important to rodeo as the athletes themselves.

“I am so flattered and honored to be able to present this award,” Shoulders says. “I tell the women every year that any woman married to a bull rider deserves an award.”

The winner is selected based on their service to others and many other reasons.

“Tiffany Davis was the first recipient. Her husband, Jerome Davis, was paralyzed from a bull riding accident when they were newly engaged,” Shoulders says. “That couple has set such a good example for young people, and everyone loves and admires them.”

The Sharon Shoulders Award is presented annually in October at the PBR’s World Finals Heroes and Legends Ceremony in Las Vegas.

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