I’ve dedicated 19 years of my life to being the best bull rider [in the world].
But my pursuit was interrupted the day I broke my neck.
In January 2016, after training harder than ever before, I was Chicago competing in the PBR Built Ford Tough Series season opener. I wanted to kick off the year by winning the entire event — something I’d never done.
The first bull I drew was perfect for me, and in the second round, I got COWBOY UP, a bull I’d been wanting to ride since the previous season.
Contestants typically score high on him, and I was holding first place going into the ride, so I couldn’t help but think, ‘I got another one in the bag.’
Cowboy Up and I matched jump for jump, move for move, and I finished the ride at eight seconds, the qualifying mark a rider must meet.
I tried to dismount the bull as soon as I could, but my hand slipped out of the rope earlier than I planned. The next thing I knew, he had flung me high into the air, and I plummeted to the ground headfirst at full impact.
I landed fully conscious, with my arms splayed out in front of me. I tried to lift myself up, but was temporarily paralyzed — I had broken the C2 vertebrae in my neck in half.
Being unable to move was a wild, scary feeling.
I could see the bull charging straight at me — he ran right over me, barely grazing my body with all four feet.
Had he stomped me, I’d been dead.
On the way to the hospital, all I could think about were my loved ones. I hoped that I’d be able to use my arms to hug them again.
After two days of waiting for the swelling in my neck to subside, I underwent a six-hour surgery, performed by four doctors, to fuse my vertebrae together. Three months later, when I was finally able to take off my neck brace, I was told that only one to two percent of people who endure the kind of accident I had regain full functionality of their limbs.
It was a miracle that I was alive and not paralyzed.
Still, the doctors wondered if there was anything else I could pursue professionally. Being asked that question hit me pretty hard.
Recovering has been one of the biggest challenges of my life, but I’m a fighter. I thank God everyday that I got a second chance.
And I’m determined to become the same athlete I was, or a better one, even if I never can get back on a bull.
— as told to The Thick