Family receives outpouring of support after son, 16, breaks neck during rodeo

In December, a bad fall during a rodeo left the 16-year-old paralyzed from the waist down. Now he's working on his recovery and figuring out what he'll do next — but he's not alone.

Sandy Cooper-Black, from Consul, Sask., is confident the injury won't define the rest of his life

A teenage boy is riding a horse on a ranch. There are cattle and other horses in the background.
Sandy Cooper-Black from Consul, Sask., is recovering from a severe injury he sustained while riding a bronco at a rodeo in southern Alberta. (Sandy Cooper Community/Facebook)

Sandy Cooper-Black grew up around cowboys his whole life. He went to rodeos, watched his father ride broncos and eventually started riding broncos himself.

Then in December, a bad fall during a rodeo left the 16-year-old paralyzed from the waist down. Now he's working on his recovery and figuring out what he'll do next — but he's not alone.

Word of the incident spread, and Sandy's family received an outpouring of support from friends, complete strangers and the rodeo community.

"There are so many people [whom] I wouldn't even be able to start naming," said Glenice Cooper-Black, the boy's mother.

"It's overwhelming the support that he is getting from everybody."

Something went wrong

Late last year, the teenager from the village of Consul in southwestern Saskatchewan travelled to Brooks, Alta., to participate in a rodeo as a saddle bronco rider.

It was a jackpot event — a more casual, community event — hosted by the local association, with the Calgary Stampede as a partner, said Kristina Barnes, manager of agriculture and western events for the Calgary Stampede.

On Dec. 30, 2022, Sandy mounted a horse provided by the Stampede, but he was bucked off and broke his neck when he landed.

"I remember everything," Sandy said.

A boy, wearing a hospital gown and a beck brace, sits in a wheel chair in a hospital room.
Sandy is just starting his road to recovery. He'll first start by trying to get movement back in his left arm, and right wrist and fingers. (Sandy Cooper Community/Facebook)

Paramedics at the rodeo grounds started treating the young cowboy. He hadn't suffered any head trauma, but he realized something was wrong because he couldn't move his arms or legs.

"I didn't panic until I got in the ambulance," Sandy said.

The paramedics initially wanted to call STARS ambulance to airlift the teen to Calgary, Glenice said. There were no helicopters available, though, so an ambulance drove him roughly 190 km to the Foothills Medical Centre.

A boy is lying in a hospital bed, with a neck brace, with his parents standing next to the bed.
Glenice Cooper-Black, right, and Dan Black, left, stand next to Sandy in his hospital room in Calgary. (Submitted by Glenice Cooper-Black)

Glenice said the damage Sandy sustained was unrepairable, but he underwent surgery to prevent any further damage.

"It was the worst day of all of our lives, finding out that your 16-year-old may never move, talk, or breathe again on his own," she said.

Risks, precautions of the sport

Sandy had only been a bronco rider for about a year-and-a-half. According to his father, Dan Black, he was still learning — and it's a steep curve.

Black described Sandy's injury as "an absolute nightmare," but those involved in rodeo understand it's an associated risk of the sport.

"You try to take all the precautions, but accidents still do happen when you're dealing with livestock of that size and strength," said Black, who, years ago, had also been a saddle bronco rider.

A boy wearing a cowboy hat, flannel shirt, jeans and cowboy boots is in the saddle while riding a dark brown horse in a plain.
Sandy Cooper-Black would often ride around the family ranch, among other activities and chores. (Sandy Cooper Community/Facebook)

Some of the precautions in place at these types of events include animal handling and on-site paramedics and veterinarians, the Calgary Stampede's Barnes said. Athletes would also have proper training beforehand.

Incidents such as what happened to Sandy are uncommon, Barnes said, so she hopes it doesn't taint people's view of the sport.

"Young men like Sandy, they get on these horses because this is something they love to do, and I hope that people understand that," she said.

Young cowboy inspired by former Bronco

Nearly five years ago, Ryan Straschnitzki was in a bad crash.

The former Humboldt Broncos defenceman was on the bus struck by a transport truck on the highway near Armley, Sask. Straschnitzki was among the 13 injured, suffering a broken neck and paralysis from the chest down.

He's still recovering, but he's found his way back to sport.

Straschnitzki started playing sledge hockey, eventually cracking the national team roster. He also started a foundation that supports people with disabilities and tours to tell his story.

Sandy is one of those people Straschnitzki inspired.

At the hospital, Sandy said he was given a five per cent chance of talking again and breathing without a tube. But before going in for surgery, he told the doctor that if Straschnitzki could do it, so could he.

When he continued struggling to breathe afterward, Glenice said most of the hospital staff believed it was time to perform a tracheostomy — a surgery that creates a hole through the neck, into the windpipe, to allow direct access to a breathing tube.

But Sandy's doctor held on to that slim chance, and Glenice recalls his words: "Talking with this young cowboy when he first came in, I could see he had a heart of a lion, [the] strength of a mountain man. Maybe we should just give him that five per cent chance."

Two men sit in a hospital room. One is lying in a hospital bed, with a brace around his neck, and is holding a sledge hockey stick. The other is sitting on the bedside. Both are smiling toward the camera.
Ryan Straschnitzki, right, visited Sandy, left, in the hospital in Calgary earlier this week. (Sandy Cooper Community/Facebook)

Sandy is breathing on his own now and, after a few days of communicating through a word board, he's talking, too.

Straschnitzki, who's from Airdrie, Alta., just outside Calgary, visited Sandy in hospital earlier this week.

He gifted Sandy a signed sled hockey stick that Billy Bridges, a renowned Canadian sledge hockey player, had gifted him after the Humboldt crash.

"I remember being in that situation, so it was important to me to at least talk to him and see where his head's at, and make sure his family's OK," Straschnitzki told CBC News, adding that he helped answer some questions.

"He has a strong spirit and I have no doubt that he'll recover even better than I have."

Feeling the love

Since the incident, family members have been in touch frequently, sending texts and videos, Glenice said. Neighbours from Consul — which has a population of 50, according to the latest census — and the nearby town of Maple Creek, Sask., have also reached out.

Friends visited Sandy while he was in the intensive care unit, he said. He was expecting a number of professional bronco riders for a hospital visit Wednesday, and some rodeo buddies on Thursday.

Recently, some of Sandy's classmates called his mom to see how we was doing, and asked if they could sell 50/50 tickets at the local senior men's hockey game to raise funds for him.

Local country musician Colter Wall — who's dating Glenice's daughter — took to Instagram to raise awareness and support for Sandy. He will be donating all proceeds from his album to the family, and plans to start merchandise campaigns.

"I want to raise money for this kid, who's a brother to me. He's like a little brother," Wall said in a video.

A neighbour from Consul, Sask., has launched a GoFundMe campaign. In one day, nearly 640 people donated more than $72,000, including one donation of $25,000.

"They don't [just] show up when things are good," Glenice said. "These people continue to show up and give us strength during this difficult and tragic time."

Whatever money the family receives will go toward Sandy's recovery, as well as renovating the family home so it's more accessible for him, said Glenice, who is currently staying at the local Ronald McDonald House.

Recovery and the future

Sandy grew up on a ranch, foraging, welding, helping with the various machinery, and riding and roping. One of his hobbies is playing the banjo.

He had dreamed of joining the professional rodeo team in Casper, Wyo., but that's unlikely now, as doctors expect he'll use a wheelchair for the rest of his life.

Sandy has always carried a certain attitude, strength and determination, Black said, so he expects his son to blow people away with whatever he achieves.

"We'd all trade places with him in a heartbeat if we could, but he's the one that's strong enough to get through this," he said.

Sandy said his doctors haven't shared much else about his recovery. He is able to move his right arm, but over the next six weeks they'll be working on getting movement back into his left arm, and right wrist and fingers.

"I'm not going to give up," he said. "So we'll see where I end up in four or five years."

A boy, dawning cowboy garments, is sitting on a brown horse. He is towing some cattle that he roped.
Sandy would rope cattle, his mother said. (Sandy Cooper Community/Facebook)

During his visit, Straschnitzky iterated that Sandy should stay hopeful, because there's more to a person than their legs, and a lot in life left to pursue.

But Sandy insists he's not scared of his new future. He heard of a farmer with a similar level of paralysis to his, "and he still runs big machinery and works the land."

"I know I'll be able to figure out something," he said.


Nicholas Frew is a CBC Saskatchewan reporter based in Regina, who specializes in producing data-driven stories. Hailing from Newfoundland and Labrador, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school. He has previously worked for CBC newsrooms in Manitoba and Alberta. Before joining CBC, he interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. You can reach him at


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