Don Mayo, a former National Finals Rodeo bareback rider, peacefully passed away on May 21 at the age of 84. His remarkable life was marked by his unwavering determination, overcoming adversity, and leaving an indelible mark on the rodeo world.
Born on August 23, 1939, in Grinnell, Iowa, Don Mayo was raised on a bustling family farm, where hard work was a way of life. From a young age, he toiled alongside his parents, Charles and Bernice Haynes Mayo, tending to crops, hogs, and cattle. Even before the sun rose, Don would feed hogs and milk cows, instilling in him a work ethic that would shape his future.
Don’s life took an unexpected turn when, at the age of 12, he stumbled upon an article in Life Magazine featuring Casey Tibbs, a flamboyant rodeo cowboy known for his flashy attire and a purple Cadillac. Captivated by the thrilling world of rodeo, Don made a firm decision to pursue his dream of becoming a rodeo star. With his younger brothers, Paul, Bob, and Roger, he began practicing on the farm’s cattle, honing his bareback riding skills. Don’s passion soon led him to compete in a local amateur rodeo, where he won the bareback riding event and a modest $18 prize. That taste of victory sealed his fate and ignited a lifelong dedication to rodeo.
After graduating from high school in 1957, Don embarked on a challenging journey as a professional rodeo cowboy. Though faced with numerous obstacles, his determination remained unshakable. In 1961, his relentless pursuit of excellence paid off when he qualified for his first National Finals Rodeo, competing in the highly competitive bareback riding event. The following year, Don’s talent reached new heights, finishing as the reserve champion of the world in 1962. In 1963, he was poised to claim the coveted world championship title, but fate had other plans.
Tragedy struck on July 5, 1963, as Don and his younger brother, Paul, were involved in a devastating car wreck. The accident left Don critically injured and paralyzed from the waist down. In a single moment, his dreams of becoming a world champion cowboy seemed irretrievably shattered. However, Don’s indomitable spirit refused to yield. Refusing to be confined to a wheelchair, he embarked on a grueling journey of rehabilitation, determined to walk again. After 18 months of arduous work, Don triumphantly left the hospital, defying the odds and walking on crutches.
Though his rodeo aspirations were forever altered, Don Mayo’s resilience and adaptability shone through as he forged a new path in life. Despite his physical challenges, he emerged as a highly successful businessman in the realms of insurance and real estate. Remarkably, Don also acquired the skill of flying planes, owning four different aircraft that he utilized during his extensive travels while selling life insurance for over three decades.
Don’s enduring legacy extended far beyond the rodeo arena and business world. He became an inspiration to many, admired for his unwavering toughness, grit, and determination. Don’s ability to overcome setbacks and disappointments with a positive attitude resonated with countless individuals, encouraging them never to give up on life’s challenges.
In recognition of his remarkable achievements, Don Mayo was inducted into the National Rodeo Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City in 2002. His place among the rodeo greats forever solidified his impact on the sport.
In 2002, Don Mayo was honored with induction into the National Rodeo Hall of Fame located in Oklahoma City.
Sadly, Don Mayo’s parents, sister Delores Weaver, and brothers Bob Mayo and Paul Mayo preceded him in death. However, he is survived by his beloved wife of 18 years, Myrlen “Ling” Mayo, as well as his brother Roger Mayo. Additionally, he is remembered by his nephews Beau and Les Mayo, Jim and Mark Weaver, and nieces Mary Whitehead and Diane Heaton.
A memorial service to commemorate Don Mayo’s life will take place on Saturday, June 3, at 2 p.m. (CT) at the Cowboy Church of Erath County in Stephenville.
For more information on the Wrangler NFR, please visit NFRexperience.com or through social media at /LasVegasNFR and use #WranglerNFR. For the latest PRORODEO news and Wrangler NFR coverage, please visit WatchNFR.com or through social media @PRCA_ProRodeo.