Injured Bull Rider Returns for 2008 Rodeo

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -- The 2008 Southeastern Livestock Exposition Rodeo opened in Montgomery Thursday night at Garrett Coliseum. The guest of honor was a name you may remember from this time last year.

Lee Aken was critically injured when he fell from a bull at last year's rodeo. The bull then stepped on his head. Central Alabama watched and waited to find out if he would survive.

A year later, he and his family returned to Montgomery to say thank you to those who supported him during his harrowing experience.

The Aken family arrived Thursday at Baptist Medical Center South -- the same hospital they called home after last year's accident.

"Pulling into the parking lot, I thought, 'Lee, I used to pull into this parking lot four times a day every day for two months!'" said wife Mary Aken.

For Lee, however, the memories are much less vivid.

"I can't really remember anything," he told WSFA 12 News Anchor Mark Bullock. "I was out of it."

"The first weekend was touch and go," said Neuroscience Operational Manager Gretchen Vercher. She calls Lee's recovery miraculous.

"He was very, very sick and progressed more than we expected," Vercher explained.

Since then, Lee has been undergoing speech and physical therapy in his home state of Oklahoma. He walks surprisingly well, but still has occasional trouble forming complete sentences.

"I'm at a place where I'm starting to get better," he said. "I'm trying really hard."

Lee, his wife, and their daughter Jada, wanted to visit the hospital to thank those who helped them one year ago. They also wanted the people of Montgomery to know that their prayers made a difference.

The Akens were expected to pass along the same sentiment at the rodeo. They were scheduled to speak to audiences each night.

Lee says his bull riding career is over. But he hopes someday to have a job working closely with rodeos.

Reporter: Mark Bullock