10-Year Anniversary of Billie Sutton’s Rodeo Accident

The State Senate Minority Leader is now paralyzed from the waist down

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – One decade ago, a 23-year-old man from Burke was one of the top saddle bronc riders in the world, until a rodeo accident changed everything. Life looks a lot different these days for Billie Sutton. He’s now running for South Dakota governor.

Straight out of the shoot, Billie Sutton was roped into the world of riding.

“I did 4H rodeo, high school rodeo, college rodeo and then professional as well,” he says. “I didn’t know that I would fall in love with it as much as I did.”

Sutton thrived on the adrenaline rush in every arena.

“You’re competing against other people, but you’re really competing against an animal,” says Sutton. “It’s a man verse beast sport.”

His goal was to compete in the National Finals Rodeo and become a world champion.

“2008 was supposed to be, hopefully, a breakout year for me,” says Sutton.

But on October 4th, 2007, the unimaginable happened.

“I drew a horse called Ruby,” says Sutton. “She flipped over backwards and smashed me against the back of the shoot. She got back up and instantly I was paralyzed. I shattered two vertebrae and had spinal cord damage.”

Right away, the cowboy knew the injury was serious.

“I can still remember sitting there and it felt like my hips were way out in front of me, and I couldn’t move,” says Sutton.

The bronc rider was rushed to the Minot, North Dakota hospital, where the competition was held, and then to Minneapolis.

“They had to take a bone out of my hip to re-build the vertebrae,” he explains. “They were completely shattered, and then put two rods and 10 screws in my back, which is still there today.”

Sutton’s rodeo career ended that day.

“But probably harder than that, was them saying ‘Oh, and by the way, you may never walk again.'”

The now-politician had to learn how to do everyday things all over again. Helping him get through this hardship were his friends, faith and family. That includes his wife Kelsey, who at the time had only been dating Sutton for weeks.

“I told her my life is going to be way different, you have no obligations to stick around,” says Sutton. “She didn’t blink; she was with me through everything.”

The same people who supported him helped lead him to his next career: entering the political arena.

“I thought about all the people that cared about me and invested in me, and I thought ‘Maybe I should be focusing on other people and not just myself’,’” says Sutton. “That opened up some huge doors, because when I asked to run for the legislature, I thought ‘What a great opportunity.’”

The South Dakota Senate Democratic leader has been serving in the legislature for 7 years. And now, he’s running for governor.

“I know the struggles of every day South Dakotans, and I think I can make South Dakota a better place,” he says.

Sutton is the lone democrat in the race for governor. U.S. Representative Kristi Noem, Attorney General Marty Jackley, former state legislator Lora Hubbel, and Terry Lafleuer are running as Republicans.

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