PUEBLO, Colo. – Bradie Gray was a relatively unknown bull rider to the majority of the rodeo community throughout the United States last year.
The 2016 PBR Australia Rookie of the Year would flash some talent for the Odessa College rodeo team after first being discovered by coach C.J. Aragon at a bull riding in Sydney, Australia, years ago, and he had covered some bulls at some lower-level PBR events in the United States.
Still, 90 percent of American bull riding fans for the most part most likely didn’t know who Bradie Gray was.
However, that all changed on June 15, 2017 when Gray became the talk of the Western sports world.
Gray was competing at the 2017 College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming, when he was bucked off by Levi The Boss and stepped on.
By the time he got to the back of the bucking chutes, Gray’s vision had gone hazy and his eyes rolled behind his head.
Gray was rushed to Wyoming Medical Center and placed into an induced coma and on a ventilator. The college senior had collapsed both his lungs, broken nine ribs, cracked his sternum, had bruising around his heart and lacerated pulmonary vein.
He arrived at the hospital with no pulse.
Doctors gave him a 40 percent chance of survival, and only a two percent chance of ever living a normal life again.
“You think it may happen to you, but you never try to think about that, so when it does actually happen it is a big eye-opener and it is almost hard to catch your breath even,” Gray told PBR.com late Thursday night.
“The hardest part about is was coming over knowing the fact that I did almost die. They say two percent of the people that come in with the injuries I had ever make it out of it.”
Gray was supposed to be in the hospital for three months.
Instead, he made a miraculous recovery.
After two weeks in the ICU, Gray walked on his own to his new room on June 29. By July 1 he was able to make his way up the stairs.
On July 6 – three weeks later – Gray walked out of the hospital with his parents, Mick and Sharon, by his side.
Now 303 days since that life-threatening wreck, Gray will compete at his first PBR event in the United States when he takes on Gold Digger Friday night at the Roanoke Rumble Real Time Pain Relief Velocity Tour event in Roanoke, Virginia.
“I just take from it that you have to count your blessings every day,” Gray said. “You never know what is going to happen in life. It was a real eye opener to me. I don’t really know how to comprehend the situation. They saved my life.
“This has given me that second chance and second motivation, or second fire, to really want to go out and do something and be known for riding bulls.”
As he sat in his Quality Inn hotel room by himself in Virginia on Thursday night, Gray explained that he understood the wreck will forever be a part of his story.
He expects to recount his story for years to come, but he aspires for everyone to know of him for what he ends up doing in the arena, rather than how he left it.
“I want to be remembered as the kid who made one of the best comebacks in the history of bull riding,” Gray said. “Not that he just survived.”
THE DECISION TO RETURN & NIGHTMARES
Gray wanted to get some fresh air in July when he asked his father, Mick, to come with him for a walk around Odessa.
Mick was a former Australian professional bull rider and went through his own perils with death and injuries throughout his career.
“I am not sure of the extent of the injuries, but he almost died himself in the arena,” Gray said. “He was lucky there was a doctor in the crowd.”
The father and son were in the middle of their walk when Bradie broached the subject of his future.
The family had yet to leave for Australia because Bradie had not been cleared to fly because of his collapsed lungs, and people had already started to ask when he would return to competition.
Bradie had said publicly when he was released from the hospital he would be back to riding within 6-12 months.
Yet, deep down he was still struggling to come to terms with what happened.
Bradie wasn’t even aware of the gravity of his injuries until he woke up from the coma a few days later and was told by his doctor. Despite the news, Bradie didn’t feel like he was in that much pain. To this day, he still believes tearing his groin was a far worse injury – when it comes to a pain threshold that is.
However, Gray began to slowly comprehend how close he came to death during those few weeks in the hospital. Once that happened, his mind began to disappear into dark, dark places.
Bradie would have nightmares when he was in the hospital and a few weeks after that he actually died in the arena.
He would wake up in a panic thinking he couldn’t breathe and would have to remind himself that he was indeed alive.
“The emotions really started kicking in when I would wake up in the middle of the night freaking out hoping I was still good,” he said. “It took me a while to really get over knowing what happened and that I did nearly almost lose my life.”
Therefore, as he was walking with his father, he explained to his dad that he was unsure of his bull riding future.
Mick understood his son’s predicament, but he told him that he didn’t have to rush into any decision. Especially because he didn’t want Bradie to make a decision he would regret.
“I remember sitting down with him and, I am not going to lie, I honestly did feel like I was going to hang it up and call it quits on riding,” Bradie said. “It was a big factor. I really had to focus on my love for the sport and really strive to make this what I wanted to do, to be able to come back.”
THE MENTAL AND PHYSICAL RECOVERY
When he returned home to Australia in the summer, Gray was immediately hit with a wave of continuous support from friends, family and members of PBR Australia.
He still had a long way to go before nodding his head for the gate again, but his friends wanted him to hit the road with them regardless.
Gray credits his brother-in-law Cliff Richardson, as well as six-time PBR World Finals qualifier Lachlan Richardson, for helping him get ready mentally for a return to the toughest sport on dirt.
Cliff invited Gray to travel with him throughout the summer to rodeos and bull ridings.
It was great for him to be back around the sport. He realized he missed it and wanted to a return, but with that realization came anger and depression.
“Your love for the sport comes back, and it reminds you this is what you are supposed to do,” Gray said. “Sometimes I would get a little angry with myself, and I would just go back behind the chutes where I couldn’t really see. I would have to comprehend that it is all good and I will come back and I will be able to do this shortly. Everyone made sure I was still a part of it and kept the sport close to my heart.”
Mick bought his son a new pair of chaps, while Sharon told her son if he was to do this again he had to be fully invest himself to getting into pristine physical shape.
Bradie still has to use a breathing exercise machine at times to help him continue to increase his lung capacity, but he is no longer on a strict regimen like he was during the summer.
He was very limited in what he could do in terms of physical activity in the first couple of months.
“I couldn’t do much other than using a breathing exercise machine to try and get full capacity of my lungs back,” he said. “Then after a couple of months, I went and took a stress test to make sure everything was clear. Then I started working out and running. I worked with a (MMA) fighter. I hired a nutritionist.”
In January, seven months after he walked out of Wyoming Medical Center, Gray nodded for the gate for the first time in the practice pen.
He was another step closer to a full return to bull riding.
“There were some nerves, but there were no flashbacks,” Gray said. “This is what I want to do. I just block out everything that happened and do what I have done my entire life.”
THE FIRST EVENT BACK
Gray had gotten on a few more practice bulls in Australia before he came back to Odessa two months ago.
Still, there were some nerves leaving his homeland to return to the country where he almost died.
Odessa is a 24-hour flight away from his hometown of Hallsville, Australia.
“There was a few bit of nerves, but I have a whole lot of support over here and I know the family is just a phone call away whenever I need them,” Gray said. “There are still a lot of nerves, but I knew I had the support and I was ready to go.”
He competed in his event since the injury last weekend at the Huntsville, Alabama, PRCA event and covered his bull for 83 points and a second-place finish.
“It was a really big confidence boost to get back on one at an event,” Bradie said. “I was feeling good and it was good to get one under my belt.”
GOALS OF RIDING FOR HIS COUNTRY; WRITING A NEW CHAPTER OF HIS CAREER
Gray is well aware of what is at stake this weekend in Roanoke.
His first Velocity Tour victory would clinch for him a spot on the 25th PBR: Unleash The Beast and push him one step closer to making a run at qualifying for the 2018 PBR World Finals.
That isn’t the focus right now, Gray says.
He is thankful to be back riding bulls again and has one primary goal for 2018.
Gray wants to do well enough to convince 1996 PBR World Champion and Team Australia head coach Troy Dunn to select him for the upcoming Global Cup competition on June 9-10 in Sydney, Australia.
“As long as I am doing my job and just riding my bulls, then the rest will take care of itself,” Gray said. “The next best thing to winning a world title is to represent your country. That is the ultimate goal. If I can impress Troy enough, then I will go to Sydney.”
Dunn was one of the many that reached out to Gray when he was sitting in that hospital bed in Wyoming.
It has been a long, tiresome journey back to the bull riding arena for Gray.
When faced with life or death, Gray prevailed thanks to the Wyoming Medical Center and his family and friends.
He knows those three weeks in the hospital forever changed him, but he still lives for 8 seconds.
“Bull riding is a dangerous sport, and of course you have a little of fear in you,” Gray concluded. “I might have a little bit more fear in me just because of what I went through, but I know this is what I want to do and it is what I am meant to do.”
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