From cowboy to cop

Northport police sergeant Cody Sullivan once was a rodeo bull rider.

When rodeo cowboy Cody Sullivan took his place atop a bull in the chute, he would attempt to clear his mind and not think about anything at all.

“After you [have] been on bulls, you know you can ride bulls. It’s best to just react to a bull and not think about it. For me, that was the best I rode, when I could get on that bull, not think about anything and just let it happen,” said Sullivan, who is now a 33-year-old and a Northport Police sergeant.

Sullivan said he can’t use that technique in his police work. There are too many variables and too many things that can go wrong, but his years on bulls and bareback broncs, along with the people he met along the way, help him in other ways as he patrols the streets in his hometown.

“I think the biggest thing to being a police officer is that you have to be able to talk to people. You are going to see people who aren’t necessarily a bad person. They are having a bad day, and you are interacting with them during their very worst moments. Being able to relate to wide variety of people and being able to talk to those people is going to get you a lot further than anything else,” Sullivan said.

He started on the rodeo tour in 2004 as a 17-year-old and the tour took him all over the country. While most of the travel was focused in the Southeast, the rodeo circuits also took him into the West and even the northern states. What he found was a commonality among people that helps him understand people better now that he is a police officer.

Sullivan said he met old country farmers in the North. They weren’t different from people he knew in the South once you got to know them a bit. He met all kinds of people on the rodeo circuit – good, bad and ugly. That experience helps him relate to the people he faces in all manner of situations while he and his officers are working the midnight shift.

“There’s people in the rodeo that come from rough backgrounds and from all walks of life and you are around those people and you get to know those people and get close to them, it helps you relate to people who are having a bad day or who are from those places,” Sullivan said.

For most of his time in the rodeo, Sullivan rode bulls. That was a fascination that began accidentally. He had been to a feed store to pick up material for his hunting dogs. When he came out, he saw a sign advertising a practice arena in Centreville. Intrigued, he had his father, a career Northport police officer, take him to learn to ride. He was hooked from his first moments on a bull.

For most of his rodeo career, Sullivan was a bull rider. He added bareback bronc riding in his final two years on the rodeo circuit.

“It is rough. You’re going to get hurt. The riding itself is rougher on the bareback broncs. When you are on the bull, a lot of times it’s not that strenuous on you. The bareback riding, the horse is just snatching you around and you’re all over the place,” Sullivan said.

It was the injuries he accumulated over his career that finally pushed Sullivan away from the sport.

“I broke both my legs, broke my right leg – snapped it in two. I broke my nose, my jaw, had my head sewed up a few times, my ear a few times. I’ve been knocked out a few times. I had back surgery but that was two years ago. I had been out of rodeo for eight years when that happened,” Sullivan said.

It was while he was home recovering from some of those injuries that he decided to make a move away from rodeo. His father was a policeman and he had always figured that might be a good career for him as well. He got a job as a security officer and found that the stability of having a home and not traveling all the time appealed to him. Sullivan has now been a Northport police officer for nine years.

He doesn’t regret making the move, although he does look back at times and wonder if there wasn’t more he could have done in rodeo. Sullivan rode mostly in the Southern Rough Stock Association rodeos based out of Athens, Tennessee. He had great success as a rodeo cowboy, going to the Southern Rough Stock Association finals twice in bull riding. He also went to the national cowboy association finals in 2006. In 2009, Sullivan won the Appalachian Pro Bull Riders Association bull-riding championship.

Sullivan’s success did not stop after he stepped away from rodeo. In 2013, he was named the Northport Police Officer of the Year.

“I enjoyed it. In a lot of ways I’m real lucky. The Lord blessed me way more than I ever deserved. In a lot of ways I got to live two dreams. A lot of kids grow up dreaming of being a cowboy. Some grow up dreaming of being a policeman. I got to do both,” said Sullivan.