When Nick Volden was bucked off a bull during a riding competition Nov. 2 and landed on his head, he immediately knew the worst possible thing had happened.
“It was as soon as I hit the ground; nothing moved,” said Nick, of Mondovi.
“He knew right away he was paralyzed,” said his mother-in-law, Lori Larson. “He never lost consciousness. All his bull-riding friends who were there, they knew it was bad.”
Nick was a member of the Professional Bull Riders. The accident occurred in front of a crowd at the La Crosse Center. Larson wasn’t there, but she’s seen the horrific video of him landing on his head.
“He said you could have heard a pin drop,” she said. “His feet hit the chute, and it basically ‘pile drives’ him into the ground. I don’t think the bull even touched him.”
Sophie Volden, Nick’s wife, was perhaps 30 to 40 yards from her husband at the time.
“When he hit the ground and wasn’t moving, I knew it was bad,” she said.
Sophie said she jumped up and ran down to the main level, where she saw Nick’s friend, who informed her of the severity of the injury.
“He said, ‘He can’t feel anything.’ I started throwing up,” she said. She hopped in the ambulance and went with him to the hospital.
Nick, 25, of Mondovi, spent 26 days in an intensive care unit at Gundersen Lutheran Hospital in La Crosse. He later was flown out to a rehabilitation center in Colorado for further treatment, where he stayed about 90 days.
“He is currently paralyzed from the neck down,” Larson said. “Initially, he was on a ventilator. He can eat on his own; a lot of people with his level of injury can’t.”
Sophie said that Nick has competed in nearly every state during his six years as a professional bull rider. She’s thankful the injury occurred so close to home, where friends and family could visit him, and help her out.
Larson praised Nick for staying upbeat.
“He’s been really positive,” Larson said. “He knew there was a chance that could happen to him, being a professional bull rider. They just keep moving forward; they truly believe he’ll walk again someday. There are a lot of advancements coming down the pike.”
Right now, Nick can move his left foot back and forth, and he can move some of his fingers.
Laura Berger, Nick’s sister-in-law, said most people who suffer this type of injury make their most recovery gains in the first two years after an accident.
Nick grew up in Cashton. He said he’s been riding bulls since he was 7 and developed a love for it. After graduating from high school, he moved to Texas and joined the professional circuit, where he competed nearly every weekend of the year.
“It’s all I ever really did,” he said.
Nick and Sophie have been married for four years; they were perhaps 10 years old when they met. They have two children together, 6-year-old Paislee and 3-year-old Boone. The kids seem to understand the level of injury, Larson said.
“She’s super-helpful,” Larson said of Paislee. “It’s been hard. They used to ride horses together. He goes to her rodeos. They are learning a new normal.”
The Voldens are living with Larson in Mondovi; Nick sleeps in a hospital bed, and Sophie sleeps next to him, with their children. They are in the process of selling their own home in Mondovi.
“We put a wheelchair ramp on our home. It’s not ideal, but we make it work,” Larson said.
However, the goal is to help build a handicap-accessible home for the Voldens. A bull-riding benefit is being organized for June 22 near Mondovi. A similar fundraiser was held last month in Cashton.
Nick said he was humbled by all the assistance he’s received.
“It’s crazy. Since the day I got hurt, I’ve had so many people there for me,” Nick said. “I’m grateful for what everybody has done for us.”
Larson wasn’t surprised that the Voldens were on board with the idea of a bull-riding fundraiser, even though that is what caused his injury.
“It’s his passion. It’s a sport, just like car racing or downhill skiing,” Larson said. “It’s just what they do. He watches bull-riding on TV all the time.”