Student-run media of Black Hills State University. The Jacket Journal / KBHU-TV / KBHU 89.1 FM & KJKT 90.7 FM "The Buzz".

BHSU Media

Student-run media of Black Hills State University. The Jacket Journal / KBHU-TV / KBHU 89.1 FM & KJKT 90.7 FM "The Buzz".

BHSU Media

Student-run media of Black Hills State University. The Jacket Journal / KBHU-TV / KBHU 89.1 FM & KJKT 90.7 FM "The Buzz".

BHSU Media

Rallying through unrivaled adversity

BHSU volleyball player faces uncertain future after ranching accident
Rylan Bruns
Aiyana Byrd is serving as a special assistant coach for the BHSU volleyball team while recovering from a back injury.

“I got up thinking I was fine, but they saw a lump of muscle sticking out of my back and were like, oh, we need to call an ambulance,” Aiyana Byrd said, recounting the day her life changed drastically.

Bryd is a junior at Black Hills State University, where she is studying mass communication with an emphasis in commercial art. Byrd grew up in Faith, S.D., and worked on her mom’s ranch, between Faith and Lemmon, where they have a cattle feedlot and run bison. When visiting her dad in Presho, S.D., she also helped with his herd of show buffalo. 

Throughout high school, Byrd started as a middle hitter on her school’s volleyball team. She says she always knew she wanted to attend Black Hills State but it being a DII school, and the fact that she was from a small town, she thought it was going to be tough to play volleyball. However, Byrd received a scholarship and joined the team. She redshirted her freshman year, but by her sophomore year, she was the starting middle hitter.

On May 26, 2023, Byrd spent the morning at a neighbor’s house roping and dragging calves to the pen to be branded. She grew up ranching, so attending a neighbor’s branding was nothing out of the ordinary. Byrd had roped a calf and began dragging it towards the pen when someone drug their calf right in front of her horse. 

To avoid stepping on the other calf, Byrd’s horse took a few steps backwards, giving the calf she’d caught just enough time to get up. With the rope still around one of the calf’s legs, it started running around, tangling the rope around Byrd’s horse. 

“It was a freak accident. My horse was in a bad situation, I was in a bad situation,” Byrd said. 

Byrd tried to drop the rope and turn her horse to avoid the tangle, but the rope was already caught around her stirrups and legs. When she felt the rope on her legs, she tried to kick out of the stirrups with the hope of getting off her horse, however, she was already too tangled. With the rope entwined around her legs, and the calf at the other end, her horse began bucking out of the pen. 

Eventually the rope came off her legs, but with the rope no longer tangled, she was bucked off and pulled underneath her horse. Still bucking, her horse stepped on her right leg. Byrd says it did not break any bones in her leg, but she still cannot feel anything on the inside of her leg. 

Though Byrd was certain she had not been hurt, others around her realized she had sustained injuries. Because they were in the middle of the pasture, nearly four miles from the yard, Byrd was loaded into the ranger and driven to the yard.

“I didn’t think I was hurt; I was telling them I was fine,” Byrd said. “But it hit me, and I was like holy cow, my back hurts so bad.”

Byrd was taken to the nearest hospital in Hettinger, N.D. From there, she was taken to Monument Hospital in Rapid City. The surgeon there redid scans and determined Byrd had a column-two fracture in her spine, meaning she had torn ligaments in her back and fractured vertebrae. Her surgeon revealed that it was one of the worst fractures he had seen and could not believe she was able to wiggle her toes. 

She was taken into emergency surgery at approximately 6 a.m. the next morning to stabilize her back. Byrd was in surgery for nearly five hours, where they put two rods and eight screws into her back. 

“[After the surgery] my mom had been like, ‘She plays volleyball at BH,’ kind of thing and the doctor kind of looked at her to tell her, ‘No, she used to,’” Byrd said.

Byrd said the days right after the accident and surgery were the toughest, both mentally and physically. A day after surgery, the doctors had Byrd up and moving. She said it was difficult to walk because of the injuries to her legs and she felt nearly immobile. 

Byrd had additional worries because she did not know how her volleyball coach would react to the news of her season-ending injury.

“She was worried about what I was thinking, and I was more worried about: Does she have feeling?” said Bree Davis, BHSU head volleyball coach. “My first question was, is she okay?” 

Davis said waking up at 6 a.m. to several missed calls from one of the player’s parents was a gut-wrenching experience – one of the most terrifying things about being a coach. Byrd’s father walked Davis through the accident, and all of the events following it. She felt it was important that, for the time being, Byrd not worry about volleyball and focus on the initial steps of recovery. 

At the beginning of this semester, Davis and the rest of the coaching staff sat down and figured out how they could keep Byrd involved with the team, just in a different role. Davis felt that because Byrd had worked with Davis on the team for a few years, she could play a pivotal role in helping the younger girls learn what she had already learned.   

“I think when it happened, just knowing her, I wasn’t ready to let her walk away because I didn’t think she was ready to walk away,” Davis said. 

Byrd said her weeks still look the same as if she were playing, the only difference is that she has more free time on the weekends. She has become an extension of the coaching staff, working with assistant coach Dillon Dahl, who specifically works with front-row blocking and the middle hitters. She helps facilitate anything needed in practice and is encouraged to give feedback wherever she feels necessary. 

Davis has enjoyed watching her with the younger girls, with Byrd walking them through how she worked through some of the things they are being asked to do. The coaches have also agreed that if it gets to the point where playing volleyball is no longer a possibility for her, Davis is happy to have Byrd move into any specific role she feels she would be comfortable in.

“I’ve told her that I want her apart of the program as long as she thought she was going to be initially,” Davis said. “We’re all committed to doing what is best for Aiyana; she’s the driver in this and we’re just her to help support her.”   

Byrd said that since her injury a lot of people have asked her if she is scared to be around ranch work and horses, but she is adamant that she is not. However, Byrd did mention that she may avoid the branding pen for a few more years. 

Though some days are harder than others (both mentally and physically), Byrd has not let the life-altering situation slow her down. Not even two weeks after the accident, she was determined to help her mom with work around the ranch. She said her mom was going out to sort pairs by herself and she offered to help, but her mother told her to stay in the house and rest.

“I jumped in a pickup and went down and was helping her sort pairs in the pickup,” Byrd said. “She was just shaking her head at me.” 

Though Byrd does not know what the future may hold, she maintains a positive outlook and has changed the way she views all aspects of life. 


About the Contributor
Kendra Mitchell
Kendra Mitchell, Senior Staff Writer