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Vai's View: What's in a name? Bobby Salazar knows

Published: Friday, March 25 2011 6:09 p.m. MDT

One day, a former teammate at Santa Rosa Junior College named Homer Jones, who was now BYU's starting halfback, introduced him to a pretty blond from Yakima, Wash., named Julie Byers. She was a BYU cheerleader and stunningly beautiful. He asked her out. As a transfer, Bobby redshirted the '79 season so couldn't go to the Holiday Bowl in San Diego, but as a cheerleader Julie did. She attended a fireside at bowl week featuring Elder Thomas S. Monson of the Twelve Apostles. At the fireside, Julie felt the impression to ask Bobby a question that their future children would call "DTR" — Defining The Relationship. "I asked him if he had thought of going on a mission," said Julie.

Bobby had never considered it, but he started praying over it. When the answer came early in the winter semester of 1980, Bobby hoped to leave in April after finals. But he learned he had to be a member a year before he could go, so he waited until June. His mission call was to Argentina, where he was known as Elder Smith, the name on his birth certificate, though he had never used it.

In South America, he learned the gospel and Spanish. He learned the organization of the church, how it operates and leadership skills, as he was called to be a zone leader and an assistant to the president. "There were areas where my companion and I had to go sober up the ward mission leader so we could have correlation meeting. Ultimately, I learned a lot about people, the Church and myself. I loved Argentina, her people and appreciated my adopted Hispanic name."

When he returned in June 1982, Julie Byers was waiting but their window for marriage was either before two-a-days started in July or after the semester and football season. So they married three weeks after Bobby's return. "I wore the brown Mr. Mac suit I wore home from my mission, " said Bobby. "I felt bad for Julie who was beautiful in her white dress and there I am in the pictures in a brown suit. But it was all I had."

Before their marriage in the Oakland California Temple, Bobby quietly and legally changed his last name from Smith to Salazar, to make it official. After marriage, his two younger step brothers, Al and Harry came to Provo to visit them. Bobby introduced them to the church and later baptized both. He and Julie performed the temple work for his deceased mother, Pat, but deferred his father's work to his step brother, Al, who is a biological son and father's namesake.

After BYU, a tryout with the Denver Broncos didn't pan out. He floundered for a few years. He bought a husky dog for his kids and ended up with 36, which led to running a kennel. He took up dogsled racing and eventually ran a team of 16 dogs in the Iditarod — yes, THE Iditarod — the grueling endurance race of man and beast covering 1,200 miles from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. "1995 was the coldest ever recorded in the history of the Iditarod, temperatures dropping to 40-50 degrees below zero," said Bobby. "The winner took nine days. I did it in 13 but I lost a day helping a competitor save one of his dogs. It was worth it."

He tried coaching, but didn't pursue it for a career. He applied to a program at the University of Utah to be a physician's assistant not expecting he'd be accepted. He was. While Bobby attended the U. by day, he built a log home at night in Heber for his growing family, waking at 3 a.m. to study. "I don't know what I was thinking," he says laughing. For the past 15 years or so, he's been part of a successful practice in Heber. "I absolutely love my work," he told me. He's served in his stake high council and is currently in his ward bishopric.

We watched and cheered Jimmer and the BYU team last Saturday night against Gonzaga and stayed up late just talking and catching up. His sons aren't Cougars, but only because BYU scrapped the wrestling program. What's important is that in their hearts, they are.

Bobby Salazar likes to say, of himself and his kids, "Once a Cougar, always a Cougar."

His life certainly exemplifies it.

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