BY TERRI MASON
December 30th started out with excitement for Sandy Cooper-Black as he and his rodeo buddies hit the trail from Saskatchewan for a bronc riding jackpot in Brooks, Alberta.
With his friends cheering him on, Sandy was spurring for the whistle, but he bucked off and hit the cold arena sand headfirst, and suddenly, the bronc riding, banjo-picking 16-year-old couldn’t move.
Sandy was medevac’d immediately to the best facility in Alberta, and the prognosis was dire. Surgeons scrubbed up as they looked at the grim x-rays: broke C3 and C4 vertebrae, so surgeons fused C2 to C5. He was paralyzed.
Sandy almost immediately began bucking the odds. The surgeons only gave him a five per cent chance that he wouldn’t need a tracheotomy, but the gritty teenager began breathing on his own. For weeks, Sandy couldn’t feel anything below his neck; by January 24, he could lift his arms with some control and noticed a few small areas with feeling on his legs.
“My core muscles are starting to work now; they started to come back,” said Sandy, immobilized with a massive neck brace in his bed. “That’ll be huge for my recovery.”
These are all small victories that everyone hopes will be huge victories. Healing, we all know, takes a long time.
Sandy lives about as far south as you can without a Montana address. He goes to school in the sleepy little cowtown of Consul. But he’s got friends — and I mean FRIENDS, everywhere. World Champion cowboys, former provincial premiers, globe-trotting musicians, ranchers, hockey players, cowboys, and magazine editors have all fallen under his charm over the years.
Singer Colter Wall has pledged the sales from his album, Western Swing & Waltzes and other Punchy Songs to Sandy’s recovery. The gravel-voiced baritone told the story of the wreck onstage at Denver, and soon thousands of people were chanting Sandy’s name.
A hockey game fundraiser hosted by the Maple Creek Hawks netted $92,347 to help with the medical bills and specialty equipment. Tiny little Consul raised $45,000, the drugstore in Maple Creek was fundraising, a Go Fund Me page is active, and the Cypress Credit Union is looking after an account for donations. Strangers from around the world have been chipping in to help.
His hospital room is Rodeo Central, with appearances by some of the great NFR bronc riders to the up-and-coming bronc riders. J.R. Vezain, himself paralyzed from the waist down in a bareback riding wreck, has been in contact with Sandy and is a good source for all of the latest technology in mobility aids. Lane Cust, the Ardmore, Alta., bronc rider who was seriously injured in 2021, is dedicating a bronc riding match in Sandy’s honour.
Sandy’s plans are simple; to go home to the ranch.
It takes a lot to build a new life. It takes guts, and it takes friends. Sandy has them all in spades.
The young bronc rider’s family has expanded by the thousands. And if there is anything positive to be said about a wreck of this magnitude is that Sandy and his family now know, without a doubt, that there are definitely more good people than bad out there. And they thank you all.
*Editor’s Update: On February 14, with the help of his dedicated physiotherapists, Sandy wanted to try something new. With his feet on the floor, he carefully positioned himself and reached out to grasp a stable bar. Family friend and bronc rider Cody Thomson said, “It’s like lifting on your bronc rein, buddy,” and with that, Sandy stood up.