LIVE OAK, Fla. — When he sat and watched the “Ultimate Cowboy Showdown” with his family, Jared Lee was moved by parts of the show.
But what the Live Oak native didn’t expect was the impact his appearance on the INSP show would have on other people, including those he doesn’t know.
“It’s been a long road for me, but just to hear after that show aired how many people it’s touched…it’s pretty amazing,” said Lee, who was one of 12 cowboy and cowgirls selected for the reality show to determine the best cowboy in the country, a title that went to Zane Runyan, from Texas.
Lee, who currently lives in Picayune, Mississippi, was one of eight contestants still in the running for the title of “ultimate cowboy” as well as the grand prize of a herd of cattle when tragedy struck. Lee is also back in his hometown this week for work and will be holding a “Meet and Greet” at Big Wood BBQ and Grill from 5-9 p.m. Wednesday.
During a competition for immunity from being eliminated on that episode, Lee was struck in the leg by a bull and had both his tibia and fibula snapped.
Lee’s run on the show and a chance to prove he was the ultimate cowboy was over.
“He should have lifted me and thrown me, but it was just the way he caught me,” Lee said of the injury. “But the one thing about it, I didn’t go out of there with my tail tucked. I didn’t go jump over the fence like a lot of them did. I stayed in there and gave it everything I had.”
In fact, Lee said he pleaded with the show’s producers to allow him to continue to compete on the show until host Trace Adkins eliminated him just like the rest of the competitors.
After the injury and with Lee gone to a hospital for surgery, the remaining contestants hung Lee’s hat up just as if he was still there right along with them.
That tribute, as well as their thoughts about him, touched Lee when he saw the show.
“It was a true honor,” he said. “I got chill bumps watching the show and seeing all the things those fellas thought about me.
“When I came hobbling back up there, it was pretty overwhelming. It was amazing.”
But the most amazing impact Lee had during the show came earlier. During the second of the six episodes, Lee got into a fight with Oklahoma cowboy Ethan Treadwell after Lee voiced his displeasure with the way Treadwell was speaking, including using the Lord’s name in vain.
Lee said when that episode aired, his phone went berserk with the messages flooding in.
“My phone went off like 100 times in an hour,” he said. “It was just like, ‘Thank you for standing up for God.’ My kids came home from school the next day telling me how their friends’ parents had said it was amazing and it had touched their lives.”
Lee said his witnessing touched lives at the ranch during the filming as well. Including Treadwell.
After the fight, the two later had a conversation around a fire pit and aired their differences and developed a bond. Treadwell has since given his life to God, Lee said.
“It brought tears to my eyes and it touched my soul to see there were several people’s lives that I changed, personally, right there on the show just by being the person I am,” Lee said, adding he and Treadwell are great friends now and that Treadwell has called to thank him for changing his life.
“For me, that was worth way more than winning the prize. If Ethan’s soul is saved, there ain’t no telling how many more people he’ll turn to God because that boy can talk.”
And while he didn’t win the prize, Lee said Runyan was definitely deserving on the honor and the prize that came with it. He said the two became friends early in the show and that Runyan truly fits what he believes a cowboy should be.
“Being a cowboy is about manners and respect,” Lee said. “It’s a code that you carry. It’s not about who can throw the rope the best or who can go pin the cow the fastest, it’s not just about being a hand.
“Zane Runyan is by far the ultimate cowboy and he deserved every bit of it. He could handle a rope, he had manners, he had class.”
Since competing on the show, Lee has remained busy while also recovering from his injury. He competed at the Hanging Tree Dog Futurity competition in Texas last month with his dog, Batman, who rated supreme. It was the first time Lee had shown his dogs.
“I should have signed out,” Lee said about competing after being unable to train over the summer due to his injury. “But by the grace of God, we went out there and stomped everybody’s butt.”
He’s also now busy working on another venture. This one, a documentary about Batman, who was born deaf with no chance of hearing, according to veterinarians, who advised Lee to put the dog down.
Instead, Lee trained Batman with hand signals and prayed. At around six months old, Batman began to hear and now has 100 percent hearing.
“We’re hoping this story is as big as we feel it is and that people will grasp ahold of it and see a true miracle by God in how he put me and this dog together,” Lee said. “You haven’t seen the last of Jared Lee.”