A series of challenges attempted to roadblock Tammy Sronce’s life but she’s overcome every single one of them.
Born and raised in Perth, Australia, Sronce’s childhood was broken at the age of 4 when her father was killed by a drunk driver. She grew up amidst abuse, was kicked out of her home at 15, found herself in a physically abusive relationship at 17 and – due to the stress of life, work and putting herself through school – ended up anorexic and near death.
She had put herself through high school working at horse racing stable. And with only a year to go on her Bachelors of Psychology, Sronce dropped out of Curtin University in Perth to take care of her health.
“That really left a hole in me,” she said.
And when she thought things couldn’t get any worse, her house burned.
“I had gone to the post office during lunch and I was on my way back to work, and I was speeding,” Sronce recalled. “A cop passed me and I thought I was going to get a ticket but he left like he was in a hurry somewhere. I thought, ‘Oh, lucky me.’ I got back to work and they told me I needed to go home, that my house was on fire. That’s where that cop was going.”
An electric blanket she had turned off, but left plugged into the wall, had short circuited and started the fire.
Ready for a fresh start, Sronce, then 19, was contemplating her future as she leafed through a horse magazine and spotted information about a job on a cutting horse ranch in Weatherford.
“I thought that sounded awesome,” she said. “I love Australia; I’m very proud of Australia. But if you love horses, there is no better place to be than Weatherford. There is no other place in the world you can go to a cutting at Will Rogers one week and the next weekend to a World Paint Show and the next weekend is another event.”
So she packed her bags and moved to the other side of the globe and went to work for Lindy Burch, president of the National Cutting Horse Association.
“I really credit her with everything I learned about horses,” Sronce said.
And learn she did. Sronce found her niche in the sport of Cowboy Mounted Shooting. Riding as fast as she can, she shoots a .45 single action revolver riffle at balloon targets. She won the World Championships in her sport in 2006 and 2008 and National Championships in 2007 and 2008. In 2011, she became the only cowgirl in history to beat out the boys and win the Cowboy Mounted Shooting Association National Rifle Championship.
Sronce was at peace with her life, and she wanted to share it with others. She began volunteering with Freedom House in Weatherford and started her own non-profit, Freedom Horses, which provides therapy sessions for victims of domestic abuse, sexual assault and other violent crimes.
“It was a way to give people like me hope,” Sronce said. “I was on the streets, and I came here and won the World. You can, too, whatever you want to do.”
Through her work with Freedom Horses she also helped herself to heal and redevelop a relationship with her mother back in Perth.
“You realize that people just do the best they can,” she said.
The years passed happily, but college was always in the back of Sronce’s mind. She didn’t want to finish the degree she began in Australia – she had moved past that part of her life – but she wanted to complete school.
“I’m a very competitive person,” she said. “I’m not one to leave something unfinished. So, I went to Victoria College in south Texas and completed an EMT certification. That was in 2008. I was the only one in my class to pass the written exam. But I still wasn’t happy with the degree I had.”
She had also hit a plateau in her endeavors with mounted shooting, and she needed a new challenge.
“Being such a role model in that sport led me to marketing and into IT and I ended up hosting a radio show,” she said.
With a new career, the answer to her educational needs clicked and she began taking Information Technology courses at Weatherford College. And just when things began looking up once more, tragedy struck again.
On her way home from the Fort Worth Stock Show on Jan. 21, 2012 a driver 2.5 times over the legal blood alcohol limit ran a red light going 60 mph and plowed into the car her boyfriend, Vernon Bewley, was driving. The impact struck the passenger side door where Sronce was sitting, her head hit the glass and her life changed forever.
“It really set me back tremendously,” she said. “I couldn’t talk well, I couldn’t balance. My short-term memory was gone. I couldn’t leave the house right after because sound and light was too difficult for me to deal with. I really just couldn’t function.”
Sronce said her brain injury is like having a “really spooky horse and every time you try and take it out of the barn, it freaks out because every day is a new day for that horse. That’s how I think about myself. It’s a new day every day, and if I have to go find something, it’s OK. It’s like that movie 50 First Dates but it has gotten better.”
While Sronce can remember the directions to an arena she last visited five years ago, she will forget where she put her credit card or keys if she lays them down. Her short-term memory has improved since the accident, but she makes sure everything has a proper place to avoid undue frustration.
“I used to sit there and cry,” Sronce said. “I couldn’t find this or that. I went to the bank but had left my bank card at home. I went home to get it and then left the deposit at the house. Sometimes I just pull over to the side of road and cry.”
After a year of living in tremendous pain with a traumatic brain injury, Sronce underwent an experimental surgery to alleviate her constant headaches caused by occipital neuralgia which she describes as “a very angry nerve in your head.”
Not only did she want relief from the pain, she wanted to ride her horses again and she wanted to go back to school. After surgery in January 2013, she was back on her horse in August and managed to qualify for the World Championship.
After a less-than stellar first run, which luckily didn’t count, Sronce gave herself a pep talk and went back into the arena. Part of that pep talk was telling herself to get over the fact that everyone else was wearing a cowboy hat and she was wearing a helmet.
“I was the only one at Nationals in a helmet,” she said. “It’s hard on your soul. It’s such a western sport. I had to get over it. I said to myself, ‘You are the only one who is worried about this. You’re the one who thinks that everyone is staring at the bucket on your head.’”
Back into the arena she went, and she missed out on a Reserve World Championship title by only half a second – coming in third out of 500 competitors. She was also awarded the Craig Ferrell M.D. Equestrian Safety Award for her promotion of riding helmets.
“It was hard for me, coming back,” Sronce said. “I wasn’t who I was before. When you define yourself with something like mounted shooting and then have that taken away from you, you don’t know who you are any more. I was devastated. So getting back on the horse was scary for me. It was tough to make those first steps, to climb on that horse and go in there and know you are still the World Champion but you don’t have ‘it’ anymore. I had to climb my way back up.”
Her latest win was at the Fort Worth Stock Show this past winter where she won the Pro Division in mounted shooting.
With her determination level back in force, Sronce’s next challenge was re-enrolling in classes at Weatherford College.
”I still was determined to finish what I started,” she said. “So I came in and signed up for one class online so I didn’t have to go through all of that.”
She e-mailed her WC instructor to explain her injury and that she wasn’t sure how well she would be able to retain information due to her brain injury. As with most things Sronce attempts, she was successful in the class and went on to take two more classes and complete an internship.
During an online course for web design taught by Julie Moeller, Sronce opened up to her instructor and began sharing tidbits of her story. Despite her challenges, Sronce made a 98 in the class. Her life experiences and determinations prompted Moeller to nominated Sronce for the newly created Dixie Harrison Memorial Scholarship for outstanding technology students.
Harrison, who worked as an administrator in the distance education and dual credit department at Weatherford College, passed away suddenly this past February. She was greatly admired by the faculty and staff of the college as evident by the creation of a scholarship in her memory.
“Determined, self-made, smart and generous of spirit – these are the words we use to describe our beloved Dixie Harrison, whose memory we honor today,” Moeller said during the scholarship presentation this spring. “Remember these words as I tell you about my student and our first recipient, Tammy Sronce.”
Moeller went on to share Sronce’s story of hardship and heartbreak, of triumph and perseverance with the faculty and staff present.
“I still struggle every day,” Sronce said. “It’s not over. I don’t wake up every day and think I’m going to go save the day and do my non-profit and go to school. It’s a struggle. It’s a migraine day, it’s a ‘Where did I put my car key,’ day, it’s ‘I want to sit and cry’ day. I used to play the guitar, and now I can’t remember a single cord. I’m relearning it. Every day you struggle with challenges that are handed to you, but what are your options?
“I’m not the personality that’s going to sit there and cry about it. I’m going to go and do whatever I want to do. I will finish my degree. I will go and win the World again. I know I will. I just always land on my feet. I don’t know any other way of being. I will finish this. I don’t care how long it takes.”