story by Michele Toberer Nineteen-year-old BJ Billingsley has been a member of the Arkansas Cowboys Association for four years, competing as a tie-down roper. BJ […]
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Meet the Member Ronnie Jackson
story by Michele Toberer
While working at the 2017 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada this past December, Ronnie Jackson suffered a traumatic brain injury that has changed his life. Ronnie’s only child, 24-year-old son, Tyler Jackson, spoke with us about Ronnie’s life as well as the details of the devastating injury.
Ronnie is a long-time cowboy that was born and raised in Salem, Arkansas. His father, Homer Jackson raised and traded cattle; and handling cattle and later riding bulls, has been a lifetime career for Ronnie. He began riding bulls in the Arkansas Cowboy Association, when he was just 16 years old, and although he’s not riding bulls now, he’s been a member of the association for nearly 40 years. In the early 90’s, Ronnie won the ACA Championship Bull Riding title a couple years, and started riding bareback horses, so that he could win the all-around champion title in 1991.
To say working with and around bulls has been a major part of Ronnie Jackson’s life, is quite an understatement. When not competing as a bull rider, Ronnie has made a living working in various capacities at many bull riding and rodeo events. Ronnie has worked as a judge and in the back pens at many ACA, PRCA, PBR and CBR events all over the country, and has been a well-respected, experienced cowboy for the job. He has also worked loading and hauling cattle at the Salem Sale Barn, which was previously owned by son Tyler. Tyler did try riding steers when he was younger, but once he started roping, he did not follow with the same rough stock passion that his dad had, and instead stayed with team roping. He has been a member of ACA and made the season finals in team roping every year since 2010.
This past WNFR was the third year that Ronnie had traveled to Vegas for the honor of working the prestigious event, and it was Tyler’s second year working at it alongside his father. It was during the calf roping in the 10th and final round of the finals when the accident happened. “My dad is very experienced and was always extremely careful, that’s why he was chosen for the job, but sometimes things just happen out of your control.” Tyler was working just down the arena from his dad, helping take ropes off the calf-roping calves, while also opening the slide gates to let bulls through to the chutes. Ronnie was working down further, pushing bulls down the alleyway to be loaded in the bucking chutes. Ronnie saw one of the bulls turn around in the alleyway, heading back towards him instead of loading in the chute, and quickly latched the gate between them to keep him from coming further. The bull smashed into the gate, causing it to come unlatched and hit Ronnie in the head. It was a harrowing scene, as they waited for the paramedics to come to his side.
Ronnie was immediately transported to the UMC Trauma Center with a traumatic brain injury, several fractured bones in his face, and a fractured eye socket and skull. Ronnie remained in a coma-like state during his care at UMC and then Kindred Hospital, for nearly 50 days, before regaining consciousness. Ronnie has since been moved to a rehabilitation facility in Benton, Arkansas, which is about 3½ hours from home, to continue his recovery. Tyler does his best to keep working and everything cared for at home and makes the trip over to Benton so that he can consult with the hospital staff and visit with his dad every couple weeks. “I’ve seen a lot of improvement in the past month, he was confined to the wheelchair but when I saw him yesterday he is getting around really well with a walker, he’s gained some weight back, and looks much better.” Tyler is hopeful that Ronnie may possibly be able to come home from the rehabilitation center in another month. Tyler mentioned with appreciation, that the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund, and some other private donations, have been a great help to Ronnie. “There have been so many calls and offers to help, just too many to possibly mention, and they are all so appreciated.”