OGDEN, Utah (AP) — Champions often are made in their trials.
At just 15 years old, bareback bronc riding champion Briggs Madsen already knew the formula of gain through pain before his Aug. 22 rodeo accident that shattered five vertebrae in his back.
And putting his champion attitude to work ever since has brought him back to health in the same fast action for which rodeo is known.
The Bear River cowboy would be hard pressed to complain about what he’s been through, fighting just to re-learn to walk and then to run.
“I still want to be a world champion — all the things I wanted before — nothing has changed,” he said. “It’s just going to take a little bit longer now.”
Madsen is even seeing the side-effects from his injuries as potential advantages. The surgeries to put metal rods in his body to correct the back injury likely mean he won’t get any taller.
“They said I won’t grow no more,” said the 5-foot, 6-inch cowboy. “That’s good. You want to be small for broncs.”
But even before the accident, Madsen was already known for his small stature and powerful determination.
Last summer, he was the only freshman cowboy to qualify for the National High School Rodeo Association finals in the bareback riding — as he and his fellow competitors were on stage before the short go-round, the contrast was stark.
“These kids looked like grown men,” said Madsen’s mother, Sonya Madsen, talking about the other top finishers in the event.
The juxtaposition of his performance and appearance left an impression.
“When this happened, all the judges and officials who were there at nationals knew who he was,” Sonya Madsen said. “They called him ‘the little guy who could ride broncs.'”
And it appears Madsen’s small size and huge smile have also drawn many to his cause since the accident. Sonya Madsen said she couldn’t even guess how many donations she’s received from her son’s concerned fans, starting from the moment the accident happened.
A three-day fundraiser in the summer netted more than $50,000.
“I learned that people are so amazingly nice,” said the mother.
Sonya Madsen said her son is always smiling no matter what happens.
And with a smile on his face, Madsen talks about the learning to be determined as he has fights to regain his health and the chance to ride again. He said he’s going to have to wait for a year to be able to compete again.
“I’ll definitely work at it a lot harder,” he said. “Going out and practicing everyday is not enjoyable. When you are in that position, you realize how lucky you are to work hard. It makes you want to try hard and work harder at it.”
And Briggs said he’ll go for the gold every time he ever gets to compete again.
“If I’m not going to work as hard as I can to be a world champion, there’s no point in doing it because there are higher risks now,” he said.
But win or lose in the future, those who have watched him since August have been inspired by his determination.
Matt Carter, a physical therapist at Neuroworx, a spinal cord rehabilitation facility in Sandy, said Madsen’s positive attitude and hard work have inspired other patients there too. The teen is there several days a week for therapy.
Brenda Bailey, a Fountain Green resident who accompanies her husband to therapy at Neuroworx, said Madsen’s efforts are often the topic of their conversations.
“I’ve heard how amazing he is, how resilient he is and how well he’s doing,” she said.
But amazing or not, Madsen’s said he will be more careful about which horses he’ll get on to compete, passing up any horse he draws that he believes could hurt him. He said he’s more aware than ever that his favorite event is the most dangerous in rodeo.
He said many people believe bull riding to be the most dangerous, but he disagrees, explaining that the tight hand-hold in a bareback rigging means cowboys have a much more difficult dismount after their ride. He also said horses can be much more unpredictable and are larger and more powerful than bulls.
But despite those dangers, Sonya Madsen said she wants to support her son in doing what he loves because, after all, that’s what life is about. And she said injuries happen to people no matter what they are doing.
“There are people here (at Neuroworx) who just got out of bed and fell and hit their head on a dresser and broke their neck,” she said.
And the mother said she admires her son’s bravery.
“He’s pretty fearless is what it is,” she said.
But Madsen said the secret to bronc riding is actually all about fear — and learning to master it.
“There’s not a time when you are not a little bit scared,” he said. “You have to learn to not show it or convince yourself that you are not scared.”