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The cameraman gets a second chance at life

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David Rocha poses with country singer Hank Williams Jr. (David Rocha Photo)

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

For many of the Roswell parents, they are used to seeing the portly man with the smile on his face as he clicks away pictures. He is often at events making memories of the athletes and people from Roswell. Photographer David Rocha does this out of the kindness of his heart and without pay. David’s passion to give back to the community of Roswell has been never-ending since arriving in 1977. 

Many folks might not know that he almost lost his life in 2017 on two different occasions. 

As the helicopter blades swung fast making that swoosh, swoosh, swooshing sound in the middle of the night, the rains of a dark night kept pelting down so hard that it hurt the sidewalk. It had rained and hailed so hard on May 12, 2017, that it ended up flooding Roswell.

The next night, Donna Rocha was trying to keep their mustang from being swept away on flooded streets as she tried to get David Rocha, her husband of 44 years to Eastern New Mexico hospital to save his life.

David Rocha had to be life-flighted back to Albuquerque, spending three weeks in Sunset Villa Nursing Home after learning how to walk again, weeks after being treated for life-threatening pancreatitis. Nurses worked frantically trying to safely load David on the helicopter. This would be David’s second lifesaving trip to the hospital. 

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Road to Roswell

David and his wife, Donna, left Lordsburg in 1977 with just the clothes on their backs. They had no car, job or money. All they had were their hopes for better days in his pocket, after just being laid off from the mines.

With no prospects of a job and no money for college, David thought, why not move to the big city of Roswell and try to find work and maybe change his family’s fortune.

Shortly after arriving, David found work wielding buses at Transportation Manufacturing Corporation in November 1977. He started attending classes at college and ended up having to quit when his daughter, Olivia, was born. Times were tough before he found employment with the state government working at the New Mexico rehab center. David worked there from 1982 until his retirement in 2011.

David finds pictures

Many folks think that David was born with a camera in his hands, but quite the opposite is true.

Before he became a still photographer, David was a fan of shooting video and did that for five years. He finally was tired of people borrowing his videos and never returning them.

David was always fascinated by the 35mm camera. He took a photography class at Eastern New Mexico University-Roswell in 1993. There he would meet his mentor and professor Bill Moffitt who taught him how to use the camera and began encouraging him. 

Oftentimes, David would hang out at Max Camera Center downtown where he learned from Mike Borem, owner of the store. David would hang around all day long and take pictures. He learned to develop black and white photos with a lot of trial and error.

One of his professors told him to go out and shoot the air show with the Golden Knights and bring back what he had. In 1995, David was the first photographer to tag along with the Golden Knights paratroopers and shoot them as they practiced their moves in the plane before getting ready to jump.

Goddard alum Bill Anderson piloted the plane during David’s time of riding with the Knights. Once they had finished practicing their moves in the plane, they were called to line up and zoom — they were jumping in an instant. David shot pictures so fast while they were over the jump zone jumping out of the plane.

On the map with Nike

David first saw Brian Urlacher playing in a football game against Roswell. In that game, Urlacher jumped over an offensive player to make a tackle. At that moment, David decided to follow him. He thought Urlacher was going to be a special athlete that could make it to the next level.

People thought David was wasting his time following Urlacher. David thought differently and continued to follow him in high school and college. After Lovington won the Blue Trophy in football against Silver City, 24-7, in 1995, David took the photo that would put him on the map.

After the game when Lovington went 14-0, Urlacher was by himself right before the trophy presentation. It was a moment of solitude and reflection. David didn’t have time to think and just picked up the camera and shot several photos of him.

“I knew he (Urlacher) was going to make it,” David said. “I had a gut feeling he was going to make it. Sure enough, he made it big.”

Nike was following Urlacher around at a charity event, and they saw the photo David had taken in a collage he had put together. Lovington coach Speedy Faith came up to David at a charity event he was covering.

Faith told David that Nike wanted to buy the picture he took of Urlacher. After that, Nike started showing Urlacher and other NFL players from high school on TV commercials.

“I was pretty well-known after I met Brian (Urlacher),” David said. “That photo gave me a lot of credibility because my photo was in a lot of magazines: Sports Illustrated, billboards, international billboards, Canadian billboards, those were my photos, it just didn’t have my names on the photo.”

Shooting for RDR,

athletes

Because of his success with photography, it opened doors at the Roswell Daily Record with then-editor Jerry McCormick, who helped Rocha get a press pass to cover the Dallas Cowboys football games in El Paso, Texas, for two years in a row.

During his three years of covering the Cowboys, he became friends with Jerry Jones. Once David went to Dallas to cover a game, Jones spotted him from the top of the stairs and pointed at David to wait for him. Jones came from the top of the press box, hugged, shook hands with him and both swapped rings. David wore Jones’ Super Bowl ring, and Jones wore David’s ring. Both men talked for a while until Jones had to leave, each returning the other’s rings.

David would always take pictures of the Cowboys in Albuquerque, and when they were in the area. He would shoot all of their basketball games and charity events. He also shot Roger Staubach when New Mexico Military Institute retired his jersey.

Good enough to cover Tapia

David was a fan of boxer Johnny Tapia and wanted to meet him. One day Tapia was at the Roswell Mall and David went up to him and introduced himself. A little while later, Tapia invited David to Ruidoso to watch him workout with some local fighters.

David watched for two hours and left. He thought nothing about it when after several months went by and he received a letter from Tapia asking him if he wanted to be a part of the Tapia team for World Title IV. He became part of team Tapia when Tapia fought Famoosito Gomez in Albuquerque.

In Las Vegas, Nevada, David had to stand on the ringside. Many times, he had to wrestle for his spot and was elbow-to-elbow to taking photos. David noted some photographers would write their name on a spot only to have other photographers rip it off and take their spot.

“I never got into his personal life,” David said. “It was always professional. Johnny Tapia treated me really well when I was with him.”

Roswell returns love to David

One of the highlights of his career was getting a ring from Roswell football coach Jeff Lynn. One day in June, Lynn came to where David was working and gave him a box and told him to open it. Lynn told David, “You’re always behind the camera, let me take a picture of you.” Lynn gave David the box with his state championship ring in it. Lynn took a picture of David with a happy look on his face.

“It meant a lot to me to get that ring,” David said. “It will be nice to give it to my daughter, Olivia Torres, after this year. One year is enough to sport it, and I want to pass it on to someone that will take care of it.” 

Almost dying

On March 28, 2017, David was in Albuquerque shooting boys’ basketball when he started getting chest pains. It had happened before, but he brushed it off. When Charlie’s Angels were performing on their first day, David had severe chest pains again. On the last day after the Angels won and were ready to leave, David was getting ready to take pictures. As he was climbing the steps to leave, he felt a big pain in his chest.

David managed to make it to the restroom. He finally came out and wanted the police to call 911 twice but became afraid. He managed to take pictures of the team and a couple of kids before the Angels left to come back to Roswell.

The Angels and his family were in Fuddruckers celebrating while David stayed out in the car laying down. The family kept texting him to come in and celebrate but couldn’t because he was sick.

David’s son-in-law, Greg Torres came out to do a welfare check on him. Once Greg saw that David was holding his stomach, Greg decided to take him to the UNM hospital right away. Once there, the hospital didn’t have any rooms open. He had to stay in the hallway and stand up and share it with a homeless person.

David was unconscious, he could see things around him, but he couldn’t speak to anyone — all he knows was he was in a tunnel that had both light and darkness in it. When he first went in the tunnel, it was like a shadow of light coming in. Almost like when a curtain is opened and then it starts getting a little dark.

“I told God, ‘I’ve seen my granddaughter win state,” David said, “I’ve seen the little ones (Ava, Brooklyn and Courteney), take me now. OK, God, if it’s my time and you want me, I’m ready, whichever way it goes, I’m ready. Either I’ve been good enough to get in heaven or I haven’t.”

David’s life hung in the balance and he was ready for whichever way it would turn out.

When David started getting close to the tunnel, he woke up. David woke up and God didn’t take him, he figured it wasn’t his time. David said to himself, it must not be meant to be. God gave me a second chance. I better use it wisely.

“In Albuquerque, I was closer to God sort of,” David said, “because I didn’t know which way he was going to take me. There was a light in the tunnel and a dark in the tunnel. I didn’t know if I was going to go to hell or heaven.”

Eventually, David was diagnosed with pancreatitis.

Going through a near-death experience has taught David not to take life for granted, to cherish every moment with his family and grandkids. His wife, Donna, whom he has been married to for 44 years; daughter, Olivia; and grandkids, Ava Torres, 5; Brooklyn Torres, 11; and Courteney Baca, 21.

“Roswell has been good to me,” David said. “Pecos Valley has been good to me. I would not want to live any other place, I love my community, some of the donors and sponsors have helped me out three times when I need a camera and a big lens. I never asked the community, and Charlie’s Angels came through for me. That’s the type of community I love and I’m proud to live in.”

Rocha’s best photos

1. Brian Urlacher – Nike photo

2. Johnny Tapia

3. Golden Knights

4. Jerry Jones

5. Three events with George W. Bush

6. Recording group war meeting Lonnie Jordan

7. Charlie’s Angels with granddaughter, Courteney Baca

8. Roswell football coach Jeff Lynn

9. Tejano music awards in 2005

10. Jaime Escalante – Stand and deliver

11. Freddie Roach

12. Roger Staubach

13. Terry Bradshaw

14. Hank Williams