By Patrick Winderl/Havre Daily Newsfirstname.lastname@example.org
Havre High School students on Tuesday heard an unusual motivational speaker - a former Havre High math and history teacher who gave up his career to become a six-time world champion rodeo clown.
During his presentation, Flint Rasmussen managed to poke fun at some former colleagues, busted out some Michael Jackson dance moves, told a Jeff Foxworthy joke and even did a cheerleader routine. He confirmed that high school students will never use much of the material they learn, made fun of motivational speakers and questioned the sanctity of political correctness.
He also delivered a message - one encouraging students to pursue their dreams and to be proud of their Montana heritage. He told kids that they don't have to be like everybody else, and to not be afraid of failure.
"Find a passion and be the best at it," he said. "If you have a talent, something that you're the best at, find a way to do it for a living."
Wearing a distinctly Western shirt and a massive belt buckle, Rasmussen explained how he gave up teaching after only two years because he missed being in the limelight as a rodeo clown. He shared how his career blossomed from a way to earn money during the summer to a lucrative full-time job and how he became one of the most recognizable faces in professional rodeo.
Rasmussen said he got his start as a teenager after telling his father he thought most rodeo acts stunk.
"He said, 'If you think you can do better, go ahead and try,'" Rasmussen said. "I told him, 'Maybe I will.'"
After performing one show for which he was not paid, the phone calls started rolling in. Before long, Rasmussen was making a name for himself by traveling to rodeos throughout the state and the gig became his job during college.
After he graduated from Montana State University-Western, Rasmussen took a job in Havre as a teacher and assistant track and football coach. He told the audience about a 20-minute conversation in which his mailman, unaware that Rasmussen was a coach, shared his belief about how good the football team could be if only the high school would hire better coaches.
Somewhere between teaching class and coaching, Rasmussen began to think about making a return to the rodeo arena,
"After my second year, I started to get restless," he said. The feeling was familiar. It was how he felt in college when he was not on the rodeo circuit.
"I realized that I was just a face in the crowd," he said.
Finally, Rasmussen took a gamble and gave up job security for a shot at his dream. Years later, he can say the trip was worth it.
Six times Rasmussen has been named the Rodeo Clown of the Year by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, has earned the distinction of becoming the Coors Light Man in the Can, and has been the barrelman for numerous U.S., Canadian and collegiate rodeo finals.
Last year, he did 171 shows, earning between $800 and $1,500 an appearance.
"There were some lean years. And then I got married, so of course I lost half my stuff," he joked. "Not because I got divorced, but just because that's the way marriage works."
While Rasmussen was often comedic, his messages were not. He cautioned students that being successful requires discipline and hard work. Even as a rodeo clown, his performance is evaluated during every show.
"If I'm not doing my job, I'm not going to get to come back," he said.
Evidently, the evaluations are going well. His lengthy schedule this year includes stops in Calgary, Albuquerque, N.M., and Reno, Nev.
Traveling is one of the best things about his job, Rasmussen said, adding that when he meets people on the road, he is proud to say he's from Montana.
"Don't deny the fact that you're from Montana," he told the audience. "If you ever drove around in a pickup this time of year with a .22 shooting gophers, you are a redneck. Be proud of it."
Being center stage is a way of life for Rasmussen. In addition to entertaining thousands of fans at rodeo events, he is occasionally asked to speak to students.
"It's a different dimension other than just being dressed like a clown and doing funny things," he said after the assembly on Tuesday. "I like to think I have some things to say that will mean something to someone."
Rasmussen said the message he tries to share with students is one of not being afraid to take a chance.
"I've sat in those chairs and listened, and I'm proof that there's something out there for everyone," he said.
When asked how students respond to his message, Rasmussen pulled no punches.
"The kids with interests relate to what I say. The kids with no interests in anything probably don't. You know, the kids in the back who are yelling things, they're the ones who don't get anything out of it."
Rasmussen lives in Choteau with his wife and daughters.