Though paralyzed, cowboy Koben Puckett continues his fight
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
When he was thrown from a bull and paralyzed from the neck down, Koben Puckett didn't leave the arena. Now, an invitational rodeo bearing his name brings hope to folks like him.
In 2008, Puckett, then just 19, was in his second year on the Professional Bull Riders circuit when he was flung from a bull. His neck snapped when he hit the ground. Then, the bull stomped on him, fracturing his lower back, breaking his ribs and puncturing a lung.
Some would give up. Puckett, instead, took his injuries as a call to work even harder. In addition to his rigorous physical therapy, the cowboy started the Koben Puckett Invitational, a bull- and ranch bronc-riding event that kicks off its third year at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Will Rogers Range Riders Arena, 313 Texas Loop 335. Gates open at 6 p.m., and tickets are $20 at the event or $17 in advance.
The event raises funds for the Press On Foundation, which has helped Puckett and those like him afford rehab and therapy to help them recover from severe spinal cord injuries.
In its second year as a PBR-sanctioned event, the invitational also is a way for Puckett, now 27, to stay around the sport he loves.
"I grew up around it," Puckett said. "My dad rodeoed, was in (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association), and I started riding ... when I was 9 or 10 years old. .... I started riding bulls when I was in high school, and by age 15, I was competing in amateur associations, competing against adults."
By 18, he was a PBR rider and already making a name for himself. A year later, it came crashing down.
"I was in Mesquite, touring with the PBR when it happened," he said. "I was a little bunged up ... strained my groin. ... It was something that a guy might should have taken a rest from.
"But I was hungry and young and wanting to do it," said Puckett, who said he remembers hanging onto the bull a little too long, trying to make that eight-second mark. "I put myself in a compromising position, and I landed wrong. I landed on my head."
It was a bad fall, and he knew it right away.
"I had to make a phone call to my dad that I never imagined I'd make," Puckett said. "It was rough. It was low. A tough time."
After his initial hospital stay, Puckett spend eight months at Project Walk, a spinal-cord injury recovery center in California, then returned home to Canyon to continue rehab. He had his own adult stem cells implanted above and below his injury site in a 2011 experimental surgery.
He started that treatment up again in April after about three years thanks to funds raised from the invitational.
"I can lean forward, I've regained some sensation in my chest and in the palm of my hand — I can feel hot and cold," Puckett said. "That's just in the last few months. That is absolutely nerve regeneration.
"Where it will stop, we don't know," Puckett said. "It's experimental, yeah, but I'm all for it."
Despite his injuries, Puckett said he never stopped loving the sport.
"It's a life-or-death sport ... but there are more spinal-cord injuries going down the interstate than on the back of a bull," he said. "You don't ever plan or expect that. You expect broken legs or arms or other kinds of things.
"I know there's a danger factor. It's an extreme sport ... but I love being around it," he continued. "Given the opportunity, if I could have a 100 percent healthy body, I would pursue riding bulls again."
But for now, his goal is to live independently (he lives with his parents in Canyon), "and I want to help others become independent, too," he said.
"Having little sparks of recovery gives a guy hope," he said. "It makes a person want to have something to live for and to do well."