TWIN FALLS — Less than two months after a rodeo accident, Braxten Nielsen achieved his goal and walked out of the hospital.

The College of Southern Idaho rodeo athlete was released Oct. 18 from the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. With the help of a walker and a therapist holding onto his belt loop, Braxten took a series of steps as more than 20 people cheered him on.

“It was like a big celebration,” Braxten’s father, Rick Nielsen, said Thursday.

It’s a huge step after suffering a severe injury in late August.

On the first night of the Magic Valley Stampede PRCA Rodeo, Braxten was the first competitor in bareback riding. The horse reared up that Aug. 31 night and smashed him against the back of the chute.

The 24-year-old’s spinal cord was compressed and twisted, and he broke vertebrae in his back.

A Roosevelt, Utah, native and member of the CSI rodeo team , Braxten was airlifted to the University of Utah Hospital were he underwent a five-hour surgery to have rods inserted into his back. Doctors told him he was paralyzed from the waist down and it would be highly unlikely he’d ever walk again. But he’s already beating the odds.

“We honesty just feel truly blessed and honestly, miracles happen every day,” Rick said.

He said his son’s positive attitude — and that he hasn’t given up hope or faith — has made a big difference in his recovery.

Braxten had just transferred to CSI this year from Weber State University, where he spent two years. He qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo and placed eighth last season.

Now, Braxten is undergoing physical therapy a few days a week at Neuroworx in Sandy, Utah.

“It seems like he’s getting a little more balance and control,” Rick said. Braxten can take a few steps on his own and can do a little more while using a walker to stabilize himself.

“He’s been doing awesome,” Rick said. “It’s totally amazing the progress that he makes each day.”

Rick said his son doesn’t have feeling in his legs and will likely have to depend on using a wheelchair for a while.

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When it was time to leave the hospital in Salt Lake City, Braxten was released a couple of days early to make it home to Roosevelt for the high school football team’s playoff game. He talked with the team via FaceTime throughout the season and gave them a pregame motivational speech before the playoffs.

“He wanted to reach out to them and kind of motivate and help them,” Rick said, like the team helped him following the accident.

Braxten has been doing quite a bit of motivational speaking at schools, Rick said, including a scheduled appearance Friday for coaches at Snow College, where his sister plays volleyball.

Rick said the family is blessed and grateful for the support they’ve received from across the country: from the rodeo community, their hometown, Idaho and those Braxten knows from his mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Braxten has made a trip to Twin Falls to visit his rodeo team and community members, too.

He wants go back to CSI, but isn’t sure when — whether that will be spring semester or later, Rick said. “He wants to pick up where he left off with schooling.”

One step at a time.

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