“I never wanted to throw the towel in – I love living too much.”
They’re fighting words from bull rider Bradie Gray, who was in an induced coma with both lungs collapsed, nine shattered ribs, a cracked sternum, bruising around the heart and a lacerated pulmonary vein to the heart last June.
He was given a two per cent chance of surviving an horrific rodeo accident in the United States that turned his world upside down.
The Hallsville 20-year-old was told he would be in hospital for at least three months recovering and might never walk again. But after just three weeks, Gray was discharged from hospital, proving he was a medical miracle.
He returned home to Hallsville, on the outskirts of Tamworth, last August, taking steps to live out his dream of one day riding again.
Gray has been a name synonymous with the rodeo circuit, both in Australia and the United States, for generations. He moved to Texas three years ago to ride with the Odessa College Rodeo Team after he was noticed by would-be coach AJ Aragon at a Sydney competition in 2009.
Gray had just recovered from a collarbone broken eight weeks earlier when he competed in the College National Finals Rodeo in Wyoming on June 15, 2017.
“I was on a bull named Levi The Boss,” Gray recalls of the ride that changed his life.
“He threw me off, I landed underneath him, and he stood right on my chest. For a second, I thought I was just winded so I just started to take a breath and then I realised I wasn’t taking any breaths.
“That’s the first time I knew something was wrong. I got up and ran back to the bucking chutes. I looked up at my coach and a couple of my buddies and said, ‘help’. That’s the last thing I remember. I woke up in hospital a couple of days later.”
Gray had no pulse when he arrived at the Wyoming Medical Centre, where he underwent surgery, was put in a medically-induced coma and on a ventilator.
It marked the start of a harrowing few weeks for Gray’s parents, Mick and Sharon, who remained by his bedside after flying over to watch him compete in the finals.
“I’d come to every now and then during that week and a half but I really don’t remember any of it,” Gray said.
“Mum and Dad said I was talking to them. It took a little while for me to really come to.”
When he did regain consciousness less than two weeks later, Gray was faced with news he chose not to accept.
“They told me I was going to be in hospital for at least a few months,” Gray said. “Then they told me it was a miracle how fast I was healing.
“Once they told me that, I really just dedicated trying to get out of there as fast as I could. I never wanted to throw the towel in – I love living too much.
“I managed to end up getting out three weeks later.
“I don’t think it was good luck. I reckon it was someone upstairs looking out for me.”
To his family, Gray’s miraculous recovery is put down to his determination, will to ride again and unwavering support from the tight-knit rodeo community.
“We knew he was strong, he was just so determined,” Sharon said.
"Of course, as strong as what he is, my daughters kept saying to me,’Mum, he’s tough, he’ll be able to pull through’ and he did.
“We were over there watching at the time.
“We didn’t think it was that bad because he ran back to the chutes, but then he started coughing up blood and then we knew it was bad.
“That’s when his coach waved us down.”
Sharon said it was devastating phoning up their daughters in Australia to tell them the news, but being with him during his recovery in Wyoming to see the support from the medical team, fellow riders and complete strangers was humbling.
Gray made a mark on the doctors and nurses who cared for him during his two weeks in intensive care.
He continued to defy their expectations – walking from ICU into his new room on June 29, climbing stairs on July 1 and walking out of hospital on July 6.
Gray was given extra incentive for a speedy recovery so he could head back to Australia to meet his seven-month-old nephew, Wylee, for the first time.
He and his family are still amazed at the deluge of support that flowed from all corners of the world – from a local car company repairing Gray’s broken-down van free of charge and giving Mick and Sharon loaned cars to travel to and from their motel to the hospital, to visits from three-time PRCA World Champion Sage Kimzey, and a flood of well-wishes on social media.
“The support has just been incredible,” Sharon said.
“For us to get off the plane here in Australia was just amazing.
“We can’t thank everybody enough.”
Gray, who was named Australian rookie of the year in 2016 by Professional Bull Riders, has only ever known life as a bull rider.
“Ever since I was little, it’s all I knew to do, so it’s been a part of me ever since,” he said.
“I got on my first calf when I was three-years-old.
“Once I got bigger, the bulls got bigger too.”
In the past three years alone, Gray has broken his back, torn his groin in half, broken his jaw twice – and then this latest accident. But despite the gamble, Gray’s goal is to ride again.
He is now taking 12 months off riding professionally to fully recover.
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But he won’t be too far removed from the sport he loves. Bradie was heading back to Odessa to help coach the Wrangler road team as assistant to head coach CJ Aragon.
“I’m going to take 12 months off to make sure I’m 110 per cent and then think about riding again,” he said.
“It’s been a goal ever since I was little to be professional and win a world title, so it’s just kept me going.
“I just want to thank everyone for the support.
“I can’t really put into words how much it all means to me.”