Diabetes Forecast

A Reality-Show Rodeo Clown Tackles Type 2 Diabetes

Boyd Bush bravely faced the bulls—and his own health challenges

By Lindsey Wahowiak , , ,
The quality of life, just from getting up and walking for 30 minutes a day, is astronomical in how I feel every day.
Boyd Bush, reality show rodeo clown

Boyd Bush is your typical 49-year-old Texan. He's a loving husband and father. He has a larger-than-life laugh and personality that serve him well as a program manager and worship leader for his church. He loves barbecue and rodeo.

And that's where things get wild and woolly.

Because unlike most folks, who watch from the stands as cowboys ride bulls, broncos, and other bucking animals around the ring, Bush took the bull by the horns, literally: He got in there and became a rodeo clown.

Bush had struggled with his weight his whole life. In 1998, he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. He was busy with family and church. He exercised, sometimes, but he was working on his doctorate, so most evenings, he'd sit down with a stack of books. And the guy loves food—not just barbecue, but pizza, burgers, hot dogs. Bustin' broncos and ropin' steers weren't exactly his hobbies.

And yet, Bush has always been drawn to the rodeo. He can trace his love for the rodeo ring back to his childhood, when his father, a truck driver, would make the events family outings. Even then, Bush says, he was all about the clowns, the guys who would yuck it up for the crowd, then distract the bull once a rider was thrown. "My favorite part of the rodeo is the bull riding," he says. "There's something that God has built inside me that wants to take care of people. The clown makes sure the cowboy is OK. The whole thing just appealed to me over the years."

Boyd Bush in the rodeo ring during the filming of Made.

Reality TV

Bush got the chance to step into the ring when he heard about a casting call for Country Music Television's series Made. Much like in the MTV version of the show, the star of each episode is "made" into his or her unlikely dream: Jocks become tap dancers; beauty pageant participants master BMX biking. And Bush was selected to learn the art of rodeo clowning, picked not just for his goal but also for his personality.

"Every human being is different; they all bring something to the table," says John Crenny, Made series producer. "But Boyd, he's a funny guy, but he's also very open and honest. He wasn't afraid to be vulnerable."

While the CMT producers were on board with Bush's transformation, his family needed some convincing. His wife, Danae, was worried about his safety—"I'm not near as spry as I used to be," Bush admits. His daughter, Tanisha, wanted to make sure he'd be around to walk her down the aisle one day. Plus, he needed an OK from his doctor to move forward—he was open about his diabetes throughout the show, as it's "a subject that's close to my heart and my pancreas," he says. He needed to monitor blood glucose during his workouts.

The switch from occasional blood glucose checks to testing up to 10 times a day was a change for Bush, whose insulin use required a careful eye on blood sugars. He took it all in stride. "My fingers got quite sore," he says. But he was ready to work for his dream. He needed all of the stamina he could muster: His Made coach was Don "Hollywood" Yates, a professional rodeo clown and entertainer who gained fame as Wolf on American Gladiators.

Yates's tough-as-nails persona translated to early workouts and hard training for Bush. The day began at 4:30 a.m., when Bush would go on an hour-long walk around his neighborhood. Then he'd head to his office, which had a gym and a recumbent bike, and he'd ride before settling in for work. After work, Bush would go to a local pool and swim laps for 30 minutes. A few times a week, he would meet Yates for a workout or go to a rodeo arena.

The workouts taxed Bush's middle-aged body. He tore his rotator cuff and injured his knee while training. But the training schedule was challenging for Yates to tackle, too. A professional athlete, he was used to training with other fitness buffs. To turn a middle-aged scholar into a rodeo clown, in less than two months, seemed a near-impossible task.

"It was tough for me to push him as hard as I wanted to, because I didn't know much about diabetes," Yates admits. "I'm not a doctor. If I was going to train him [typically], I would take six months to a year and train him in a specific way to get him to lose the weight. But I was trying to train him, get him to lose the weight, and get him in a ring with bulls in six weeks."

Pain and Gains

Bush wasn't used to playing through the pain. "Professional athletes are a different breed," Yates explains. "When I started to push him, he would have knee issues. I've had knee surgeries, so for me, you just suck it up and you do it."

When watching Bush's episode, it seems as if there were times he wanted to call it quits, but today he says it was all worth it, especially the first time he stepped into the ring with a bull. "It was so much fun," he says. "Once we got into the arena working with the bulls, it was very scary, but it made everything worthwhile—the pain and the aching bones. It was exhilarating, but I was scared to death!"

He pushed through the fear, however. Ranch owner Chris Hammack and Yates were both surprised when Bush entered the ring—and ran toward the bull. Bush did a fake, just like he'd learned, and spun the bull around to where it needed to be, impressing the guys.

"I wasn't going to have him do a whole lot. I just wanted him to get used to being around the bulls," Yates says. "I wasn't expecting him to run to a bull. But I thought, 'You know what? If he wants it, that's good! That shows heart.' I was really proud of him that day."

People Pleasing

Bush had plenty to be proud of, himself. He tackled his fears, and his training helped his health. By the time he stepped into the ring for his first rodeo, he had lost about 25 pounds—and his doctor had reduced his daily insulin by half.

And preshow jitters? None—he's at home in front of an audience. "I'm very much extroverted," he says. "You put me in front of a crowd, and I just go nuts. I went not just in the arena but into the crowd, talking to people. I went out there and was actually 'protecting' kids from the mechanical bull, just being silly. It was so much fun. In fact, it was my favorite part."

That was no shock to producer Crenny, who says Bush is something special, even in the "seen-it-all" world of reality television. "If he was just a funny guy who was sarcastic, you wouldn't want to watch him for an hour," Crenny says. "But Boyd, in a way, was sort of an open book in a really positive way. His sense of humor is not in any way a cruel sense of humor. No one's feelings are going to get hurt after Boyd tells a joke."

New Lease on Life

His feelings and his body still fully intact after a few run-ins with bulls, Bush says he's not headed back into the arena any time soon. But he's still active. He gets up and walks for 30 minutes to an hour each morning, rain or shine. He's using resistance bands to build his shoulder back up post-injury, and he and his wife swim together. The training he did for his rodeo clowning has stuck with him as a real lifestyle change. "Bottom line, I would say, the quality of life, just from getting up and walking for 30 minutes a day, is astronomical in how I feel every day," he says. "I make sure I stay consistent and constant."

Crenny says that type of change is why Made is compelling television. However, he says, Bush's honesty, hard work, and personality sold his episode. "Here was a guy who really wanted to change his life, and he did," Crenny says. "He's one of our success stories."



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