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Missouri Gay Rodeo inspires man with neurodegenerative disorder to overcome mobility challenges

Malcolm Cook Missouri Gay Rodeo Association
Posted at 12:57 PM, May 11, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-11 18:25:28-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Seven years ago, Malcolm Cook was diagnosed with spinocerebellar ataxia, a degenerative brain disease.

“Basically, my cerebellum is shrinking,” Cook said. “I have no sense of balance.”

Doctors told Cook his days walking on his own were dwindling.

“I was told that within five years, I could be in a wheelchair,” Cook said. “... At first I was depressed because the doctor said, ‘You don't have a sense of balance; you're going to lose your ability to walk,’ so I kind of gave up. I was like, ‘OK, I'm gonna be in a wheelchair; give me a wheelchair.’”

But through the community he found at the Missouri Gay Rodeo Association, Cook found renewed purpose and inspiration.

Malcolm Cook MGRA cowboy
Seven years ago, Malcolm Cook was diagnosed with spinocerebellar ataxia, a degenerative brain disease, but he's found purpose, community and inspiration at the Missouri Gay Rodeo Association.

His girlfriend, Melody, is a drag king, who has competed for the MGRA Mr. Missouri Gay Rodeo title, so Cook would come to the rodeo to support her.

“The other cowboys noticed that I was watching and I wanted to get out there, so they raised money for me to get this walker so I could compete in the rodeo with them,” Cook said. “They raised the money in five minutes just to get this walker.”

The specially adapted walker has a lightweight with special all-terrain tires, making it more maneuverable even on rugged ground.

“They're made out of whatever dodge balls are made out of, so they're really thick and almost unpuncturable,” Cook said. “I can go over rocks. I can go over glass, I can go over a lot of stuff.”

He can also be a cowboy.

“I can do calf roping on foot with the lasso and I do goat dressing — which is a running, putting panties on a goat and then running back,” Cook said. “It's really fun.”

If you’d have told Cook seven years ago, that’d he be a rodeo competitor and still so active, he’d have scoffed.

“If it wasn't for this rodeo, I probably would be in a wheelchair by now,” Cook said. “But since I'm competing and staying active and moving my legs, that was like seven years ago. ... The rodeo gave me freedom and the independence to do what I want. It helped prove to myself that I can beat this, I can do this.”

Cook has a message for others battling mobility challenges.

“Don't think just because you have a disability you can't do it,” Cook said. “That's what I thought. I thought, ‘Because I'm disabled, I can't do anything. I'll just sit in my chair and exist.’ Here the cowboys said, ‘No, come play with us in the dirt,’ so I did and I do it every year.”

Cook is among the competitors at the MGRA’s Show-Me State Rodeo, which continues at 10 a.m. Sunday at the American Royal’s Hale Arena in Kansas City’s West Bottoms.