GLEN ROSE — Welby Simpson has once again proved he’s a world champion when it comes to playing the game of horseshoes — but the circumstances were beyond remarkable the second time around.
Late last month in Wichita Falls, the 81-year-old Somervell County resident won the world championship in his age group for the second time. Even more amazing is the fact that Simpson accomplished the feat only months after suffering a brain stem stroke last November.
“It was the most devastating thing I ever had because you can’t do anything fast,” said Simpson, whose thin build served him well as a youngster growing up in Indiana participating in school sports such as basketball, track and even table tennis. “I didn’t know if I’d come out of that. Still, my balance is not 100 percent, but I recovered really good.”
Simpson spent the first week after his stroke as a patient at a rehab hospital in Temple. After returning from there, he spent 20 days at Glen Rose Medical Center.
Not only was he able to recover enough to resume playing his beloved sport, but he also regained the touch that made him a world-class competitor in horseshoe pitching.
Simpson won the championship in what is called the Elders Division (for age 60 and older) at the 2019 World Horseshoe Championships held at the Multi-Purpose Events Center in Wichita Falls. He won 14 of the 15 games he played there.
The world championships are held in a different city each year. Simpson won his first world crown in 2008 when it was held in Philadelphia. He took home third place in the world championships in 2007, in Louisiana.
Simpson said he collected $3,500 in prize money along with a trophy for winning the title in Wichita Falls. He said there were a total of about 1,000 competitors there, counting all of the age divisions.
He has been playing horseshoes for about 15 years.
THE ROAD BACK
Simpson had been averaging about 82 percent on his throws before he sustained the brain stem stroke. When he first tried to return to competition, he lost 17 games in a row.
Now, Simpson said his physical abilities have returned to about an 8 on a scale of 1-10.
“The doctor just kept telling me to ‘just keep trying, it’ll come back to you,’" said Simpson, who served from 1956-1959 in the Korean War and made 21 parachute jumps as a member of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division.
Simpson did the rehab work himself, of course, but he gave plenty of credit to his wife, Marie, along with the physical therapy he received at Glen Rose Nursing and Rehab. He said that occupational therapist Lance Knox and physical therapist Jean Ward at that facility “were just super.”
They even had him doing some exercises aimed at helping him pitch horseshoes once again.
“My wife had a lot to do with it, and she was always encouraging me,” Simpson said. “I was just amazed. Because of the brain stem, I thought I’d never do it. The man upstairs helped me. He was right with me.”
Now Simpson said that he has his old “killer instinct” back, which made him highly competitive in sports his entire life.
Simpson moved to Somervell County from Indiana in 1984. Marie, a native of Fort Worth, moved to Glen Rose in 1998. The two met years later, and married two years ago. Their residence is about six miles south of Glen Rose.
Marie recalled that her husband’s determination — and sometimes stubbornness — “and the will to do better each day” helped bring him back to health so quickly.
“Every morning after rehab, he would get on his bike,” said Marie, who made the thoughtful decision not to take her own bike to join him on those rides of up to five miles “because that meant that I didn’t have any faith in him.”
The stroke did affect some of his brain functions, especially his short-term memory.
“It’s better some days (than others),” said Simpson, who previously had a 35-year career as a professional farrier, but was operating a small lawn care business at the time of his stroke.
Simpson has two children — son Richie, a professional farrier in Glen Rose, and daughter Tina, who works in the money management business.
Even if Simpson hadn’t had such great success in his return to horseshoe competition, he wouldn’t be considering leaving his game behind.
“At 81 years old, you can’t have a lot of things in sports that you can win at, so I’m going to pitch as long as I can,” he said.