Julian Whitcher: Eight Seconds Changed Everything

Julian Whitcher's future looked grim back in 2008 when the young cowboy was thrown from a saddle bronc while competing in a rodeo. The fall crushed two vertebrae in his neck and left him paralyzed from the chest down. During Whitcher's rehabilitation his family worked with SDHDA to build an accessible Governor's House.

The 1,008-square-foot house, all on one level, suited his needs. Kitchen counters were lowered, outdoor ramps were built and a wheelchair-accessible shower was installed. Whitcher's home was moved to the family ranch in the Badlands in November 2008.

Whitcher is still living in his Governor's House. He is studying computer-aided drafting at Western Dakota Technical Institute. "I hope to graduate in 2014, but I'm taking it one semester at a time," remarked Whitcher. "I made up my mind that I've got to do something different with my life. I can't physically build something – but I can build something."

He makes the 45-minute drive to school in Rapid City on his own, behind the wheel of a specially equipped van given to him by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and Justin Boots Cowboy Crisis Fund. During his lunch break, Whitcher heads to the Rapid City Swim Center to build up his strength in the lap pool.

Whitcher recently took a huge step closer to the cowboy life he once knew, he bought a horse. His friend taught the horse to lie down so he can climb onto the specially modified saddle. "You just don't feel like you have control. It's kind of scary to get back on the horse, but when fear stares you down, you have to face it," said Whitcher.

"An old guy by the name of Tom Reeves, who used to rodeo, always said that if you work at something hard enough and long enough, things will work out," Whitcher said. And for Julian it is.