Billie Sutton Shares Powerful Personal Story

Posted on: July 2, 2024   |   Category: News Releases

By Lura Roti for South Dakota Farmers Union

Billie Sutton’s pro-rodeo career was cut short due to a tragic back injury. He was just 23 and he would never walk again.

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Although his rodeo career ended, his life did not. Sutton shared his story of determination and service with campers during the 2024 Farmers Union State Leadership Camp.

“I could have never imagined what was in my cards when I was going down the rodeo road riding bucking horses, thinking of myself. I could have never imaged that this is where my life would be, but it has been so rewarding.”

Sutton said when he was told he would never walk again, he was able to move forward because of support from family and friends, his faith and a never say quit attitude.

“I adopted the mantra, ‘if one door closes, another one opens,’” he said. “Many times, doors opened for me because I’ve tried to say yes to opportunities.”

Right away, he made the decision to finish college. Then he said “yes” when asked to run for South Dakota State Senate. After serving eight years in the Senate, in 2017 he said “yes” to running for governor.

And although he didn’t win, Sutton said the loss is what led him and his wife, Kelsea, to found the Billie Sutton Leadership Institute. Dedicated to inspiring and preparing the next generation of leaders to build a stronger South Dakota and more vibrant communities and workplaces through service to others, more than 70 rural professionals have graduated from the program.

“I was not done serving,” Sutton said. “If I would not have lost the governor’s race, I never would have founded this Leadership Institute…when one door closes, another one opens.”

Of the disappointments and challenges he has faced, Sutton said losing their newborn daughter, Lenny, was the most challenging. Lenore was their second born. She has an older brother, Liam. After losing their baby, Kelsea was told she would not be able to have any more children.

“We said ‘yes’ to surrogacy…and we ended up with twin boys who are 2 now,” Sutton said. “A lot of overcoming adversity is perspective and a never say quit attitude.”

Reflecting on the doors that have opened after adversity, Sutton said, “People sometimes look at me funny when I say it, but I wouldn’t change a thing because of what I know now.”

To learn more about Billie Sutton Leadership Institute, visit suttonleadership.org. To learn more about Farmers Union camp programming, visit www.sdfu.org and click on the Education link.