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Rodeo Alaska members buck up to support injured riders

By Shannon Ballard Photojournalist: John Thain - 8:18 PM June 13, 2014

As cowboys at a bull riding clinic in Palmer prepare to kick off the start of rodeo season, they can’t help but feel a void.

On their minds are fellow bull riders Mike Sunderland, 19, and Ryan Palmer, 21.

“Its just tragic. Nobody wants to see that happen to their friends,” Bull rider Kraig Morris said.

On June 3 the men rolled a car several times before hitting a tree. Since then Tammy Sunderland has lost her son five times.

“I called the hospital. They said he’d been air flighted and that his heart was beating but he wasn’t breathing on his own and that’s all we knew,” Tammy explained.

But yesterday Mike woke up. He has traumatic brain injury, and is on a long journey to recovery.

“A common phrase for us since he’s woke up is just eight seconds Michael. You can do this for eight seconds. We know you can,” Tammy said.

Ryan is down the hall at Providence with a broken femur and pelvis.

This weekend Rodeo Alaska is asking people to buck up for a good cause – to help ease medical expenses for Mike and Ryan.

“We just tip a cowboy hat upside down and folks give what they can afford to give,” Rodeo Alaska announcer Dan Fowlie said.

Alaska’s cowboy community is quick to contribute.

“I’m going to dedicate all my rides to Mike from now until he’s healed,” Morris said.

The strength to become a bull rider comes from within; the mentality of getting back on when you get knocked off.

“I’m sad he’s not going to be here but I know he’s going to be again,” Tammy said.

Rodeo Alaska will be passing the hat for Mike and Ryan all weekend, selling t-shirts for the cause, and taking donations online.

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