December 14, 2019

Sutton speaks about perseverance - Daily Leader Extra : Local News

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Sutton speaks about perseverance

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Posted: Thursday, October 3, 2019 3:08 pm

When Billie Sutton, former rodeo cowboy and past leader in the South Dakota Senate, spoke to boys and girls in the Madison High School gym on Thursday morning, he encouraged them to see beyond the challenges in their lives and work to make their tomorrow's better for themselves and others.

As a young man, Sutton suffered a serious injury while competing in a rodeo held in Minot, N.D., and was left with paralysis from the waist down. While speaking to the students, he rolled his wheelchair across the gym floor speaking to boys and girls seated in different sets of bleachers.

On Oct. 4, 2007, Sutton had drawn a bronco named Ruby to ride while competing in the Badland Circuit Finals Rodeo. He had ridden the horse before that day, and Sutton prepared himself for the ride.

"I knew how it was going to go," Sutton said. "I put on my lucky shirt and prepared myself."

While Sutton was trying to mount Ruby, the horse flipped over and landed on him. The impact shattered two of his vertebrae and left Sutton paralyzed.

"In a moment, everything I knew in life was done," Sutton said.

Sutton spoke to an assembly of middle and high school students and educators in the MHS gym as part of National Disability Employment Month. He helps his family operate their cow-calf operation near Burke and works as an investment executive for First Fidelity Bank. Sutton and his wife Kelsea are raising a 3-year-old son named Liam.

According to Sutton, he woke up in a Minneapolis hospital at age 23 with a life-changing injury. He eventually had to ask himself " what am I going to do?"

While recovering and going through physical rehabilitation, Sutton received assistance from family, friends and his community. Groups in Burke helped with fund-raisers that provided donations for equipment that Sutton needed.

While he couldn't compete in rodeos anymore, Sutton knew he had a good education and only a semester of college left before he earned his degree in finance.

"I got it done -- I persevered," he said.

He was employed as an investment adviser and helped his clients save money for college educations and retirement. People trusted his financial advice and saw that he was smart and honest.

"They saw my ability as an individual," Sutton said.

In 2010, he was asked by residents in his legislative district to run for the South Dakota Senate. He served in the state Senate for eight years, four of them as Senate minority leader. In 2018, Sutton ran for governor and missed winning the office by 3% of the popular vote.

In 2019, he started the Sutton Leadership Institute to help build a stronger South Dakota and better communities " inspiring and preparing the next generation of leaders for service to others."

Sutton told the boys and girls that despite his injury, he still wanted to face challenges and have the opportunity to overcome them.

"I wanted the opportunity to succeed or to fail...based on my ability and not on my disability," Sutton said.

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