FORT SHAW — A conversation with Rorrie Toren of Fort Shaw can go any number of directions.
He’ll tell you about the time he slipped on a dance floor at his daughter’s wedding.
"My crutch hit her dress and I went flyin'!"
He might pull out a knife and show you where his nerves are too damaged to feel a poke.
"Doesn't even phase me..."
And he’s particularly fond of pulling out his phone and showing you funny pictures of his kid, all with a smile on his face, a chuckle in his voice and a healthy dose of good-natured expletives.
But on Saturday at the Big Sky Pro Rodeo Roundup In Great Falls, Rorrie Toren was tearful and speechless. Perhaps for the first time in his life.
“That was big time, something special,” Toren recalls. “It was great."
Toren was surprised with the Rocky’s Road Perseverance, Character and Hope award. The gold belt buckle was named after the late Rocky Heckman, an outfitter and rodeo advocate who died after a battle with brain cancer. It’s given out every year by Rocky’s widow Lorell Heckman and her children.
“It’s a tribute to Rocky as well, because he was a cool dude,” Rorrie said. “He was a good guy who had the patience to help all of those little kids at junior rodeos. I never saw him get mad once.”
And Rorrie is more than a deserving recipient.
He was a promising cowboy as a teenager and at age 16 he’d already placed in a few pro rodeos. But an accident before his junior year at Choteau High School changed the course of his life.
“A horse trader brought in three or four different horses for the rodeo club to try out,” Duane Toren, Rorrie’s father said. "And Rory took one out and when he hit a horse on his shoulder with his spurs, it went backwards. And dumped him in the back of the chute. He hollered, 'Dad, I'm paralyzed' that quick."
Rorrie lost all feeling in his lower body. He was told he’d never walk again, he’d never ride again. He was told he likely wouldn’t live past age 40. But not once did he ever let himself feel down.
“Nothing like that,” Rorrie said. “I’ve never had a moment where I felt sorry for myself.”
Rorrie Toren is now 62 years old.
In the 46 years since his accident, he’s lived a life many only dream of.
He walks every where with the help of leg braces and crutches. He breaks and rides horses with the help of a special saddle and stirrups. He competes and regularly wins O-Mok-See competitions around the state. He lives on a ranch near Fort Shaw and dug and hammered in every fence post on his property.
But more importantly to Rorrie, he’s been married to his wife Mary for 36 years and they’ve raised two children - Brandon and Danelle - to be fine adults.
“Life has been good. It just is, life has been good to me,” Rorrie said. "And I see someone else walking around with nothing wrong with him. I wouldn't ever want to trade places. They may have wives and families, but I know I have a better one."
What Rorrie has accomplished in his life, and what he’s overcome isn’t special to him. It’s just life. But his younger brother Wade, who is helping Rorrie as he recovers from an infection, believes Rorrie is a hero who deserves the recognition.
“When I was a second grader in health class, I learned we were dying from the day we were born,” Wade said. “So in my opinion, when Rorrie got paralyzed in a lot of ways, that's what went into his head, is what's going to happen to me now? Might as well live life."
Rorrie is more comfortable cracking jokes and trading lighthearted insults with friends and family. He’s not one to get sentimental. But if there’s one thing he hopes people can take from his example it’s this:
"Don't waste your life feeling sorry for yourself. Do things,” he said. “There's tons to do. Just do them.”
Disability is not a curse to Rorrie. It’s a gift, and it’s made him cherish every day and fill them with laughter, memories and experiences.
“You do everything possible that your body and your brain can do," he said. "That’s what I think."