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The Rider Relief Fund provides a safety net for injured athletes

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By Sydney MacDonald EBS Editorial Assistant

Every year, rodeos across the country invite competitors to endure the task of holding onto a 1,500-pound-plus bucking bull for eight seconds. With little to no room for mistakes, competitive bull riding can be detrimental to athletes’ physical health, as well as their financial stability.

In the past, rodeo athletes typically had to fend for themselves if they experienced a medical emergency, shouldering the burden of medical bills and financial stress largely on their own. Over the past decade, the Rider Relief Fund has provided support to bull riders and bull fighters when major injuries occur.

The Rider Relief Fund is a nonprofit founded in 1998 to provide financial assistance to athletes, bull riders and bullfighters who get injured in competitions.

RRF’s Director of Fund Development Jill vanEgmond says the nonprofit serves as a safety net. “We help people get back up off their feet when they’re truly not able to help themselves,” she said.

On average, the Rider Relief Fund helps anywhere from 20 to 40 injured riders pay medical bills, negotiate medical expenses and regain financial stability every year. Athletes of all levels and ages are eligible to apply for assistance from RRF as long as they were injured competing in a sanctioned event, and this includes stops on the Professional Bull Riders tour.

“Most people who bull-ride are uninsurable to a large degree, and PBR only provides a certain level of insurance to riders in the top 45,” vanEgmond said, adding that their financial situation can be further hampered by a loss of income while they recover.

“A lot of these guys work paycheck to paycheck and have families to provide for. Without us they could be in financial ruin,” she added.   

Sean Willingham, a professional bull rider of 18 years who hails from Summerville, Georgia, was bucked off a bull at the Rimrock Auto Arena ground in Billings, Montana, in 2015. Willingham suffered a severe neck injury and RRF stepped in to offer financial support to Willingam and his family. 

“After breaking my neck in 2015, I was out of work for three months. The Rider Relief Fund not only helped pay some of my medical expenses, the organization also helped me pay my bills. This year I underwent surgery on my groin and once again Rider Relief Fund stepped in to help me financially,” Willingham said. “Without Rider Relief Fund, my family would not have been able to make it through my injuries.”

RFF  has been able to continue offering support to a variety of bull riders thanks to the group of dedicated volunteers who continually work rodeo events all over the country. Last year alone the organization raised over $22,000 for their cause at Big Sky’s PBR event.

“Bull riding is the fastest growing sport in the country, and as these young guys come up we just want them to know we’re there for them. That’s our sole purpose,” vanEgmond said.


2017 Big Sky PBR Golf Tournament

What: A 9-hole, five-person team scramble tournament followed by live music, happy hour specials and a mechanical bull

When: Wednesday, July 26. Registration starts at 12:30 p.m. and there will be a 2 p.m. shotgun start

Where: The Reserve at Moonlight Basin, an 8,000-yard Jack Nicklaus Signature Design Golf Course

Why: All proceeds from the tournament will be donated to the Rider Relief Fund


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