Former Roswell firefighter wins big on reality TV show
By Christina Stock
Zane Runyan is a modern day cowboy who grew up on his father’s ranch, about 20 miles east of Roswell. When he joined Future Farmers of America nobody could have guessed that one day he would be a reality TV star.
As an adult Runyan became a firefighter and paramedic for the city of Roswell, while continuing to work on the ranch. He competed at rodeos and the local annual Chisum Cowboy Mounted Shooting competition. Then his life as cowboy was rewarded when in October 2014, he set a new world record at The Eliminator Showcase at the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association’s World Championship.
When the general entertainment network INSP announced that they were planning a cowboy competition series, “Ultimate Cowboy Showdown,” Runyan found out about it.
“Somebody sent me an application and told me to fill it out, so I filled it out,” Runyan said in a phone interview. Runyan lives today in Waco, Texas. “The network contacted me back and said, send in a video. So I sent in a short video and they told me to come to Alabama to be in the competitions.”
The TV reality series turned out to be a fun and interesting experience for Runyan.
“What I really liked was being around cowboys from different parts of the U.S.,” he said. “And seeing how they did the same job that we do in different ways. Because it fits to what they deal with every day the best. There are people from Utah. In the mountains and the snow they did it (herding cattle) slower, with longer ropes, stuff like that. Then there are people in the swamps of Florida and they use dogs — horses weren’t that important.
“It was cool seeing the diversity of the cowboy to suit the condition they are working in.”
In “Ultimate Cowboy Showdown,” Runyan was one of 12 cowboys (men and women) from across the country who competed for the ultimate cowboy prize — a herd of cattle they can raise and take to market. Over the course of six nights, viewers of the TV network were able to watch the strong-willed cowboys undergo a series of grueling physical and mental challenges that tested them individually and as teams.
The last cowboy standing was Runyan, who walked away with a prize package that includes the herd, and the “Ultimate Cowboy Showdown” belt-buckle, worth approximately $50,000. The finale aired Oct. 20 and is now available on Amazon Prime Video.
In the short bios the TV channel released about the competitors, it said that Runyan’s father was retired, which is not correct according to Runyan. His father and his mother had run the ranch until seven years ago when they sold it to buy a ranch in Texas, so the family moved to the neighboring state.
“He put up the whole ranch a year ago, and he since sold half of it and he is still living on the ranch, but parts that he sold was where the house that I was living on stood.”
Runyan represents the modern 21st century cowboy. When asked about the future of the iconic profession, he said, “I think the job of the cowboy is not going to change that much. The job has been the same for 200 years. I see the industry getting to be smaller, larger players. The smaller ranchers are going to be bought up by the bigger ranches. There will not be as many ranch owners, but the ranches will be bigger. As people move to town, just as farming has gone, you have to be so much more efficient because your margin is getting smaller and there are less people involved.”
Runyan works today in the real estate business. “I have a daughter in high school, and I have one that is going to Texas State and studying business,” he said. “They did junior rodeos and stuff like that, but since we came to Texas they haven’t been active in competitions, but helped on the ranch the whole time.”
“The best thing about ranches is raising a family in that environment because it teaches hard work; how to save, how to get through the hard times,” Runyan said. “And to know when the good times come, don’t go spending it all. If you learn to ranch, if you learn the values that being on a ranch teaches you, if you decide to go to town and get a job there, you will do great. Because it’s not as hard to make a living in town as it is on the ranch. If you can learn the values and the work ethic that being on a ranch teaches you, you can make it anywhere.”
Runyan returned to Roswell recently, but it was a somber occasion. “I was there, probably a month and a half ago when the firefighter died and had the funeral. I came to that,” he said. “I like Texas, but I sure miss all my friends there in Roswell.”