The national college finals rodeo is coming up soon in Casper, Wyoming. Qualifying students from SDSU’s rodeo team are putting in their final practice hours.
Jacey Hupp has been to nationals three times so far. This year, she’s coming back from an injury that left her out of the arena for months.
Rodeo has always been a family affair for the Hupps. Jacey is the youngest of four siblings.
"My father did it, my mom was around horses her whole life, both my older brother and sisters went to SDSU and rodeoed. And so it’s kind of just been something we’ve always done.”
But an accident several years ago in a rodeo arena left Jacey seriously injured. In 2018, she lost much of the use of her right eye.
“And I ended up having my head rope stretch and snap back at me and people that were there said it sounded like a gun going off it stretched so far and snapped so hard and it hit me right dead center in my right eye. And we didn’t really know what was going on right away it was so big and swelled up and I couldn’t even open it let alone know if I could see out of it.”
Jacey and her family saw multiple Sioux Falls specialists before getting treatment in the Twin Cities.
“We found out that I had quite a mess going on in there and there really wasn’t much to salvage.”
Jacey had to wait nine long months until she was able to get the surgery she needed for her damaged eye. The medical procedure included a new technique – to insert a hand-painted iris. In fact, Jacey is the first person in South Dakota to have the procedure.
Her parents were with her every step of the way. Her father, Bill says it was hard to watch his youngest daughter be in such pain.
“Oh it was devastating. I felt worse for her, you know. She loved it so much and was having some success at it and stuff and then to just have it *smack* just like that.”
But it wasn’t long until Jacey was back in the saddle and out in the arena.
Her mom, LaDonna, remembers Jacey’s first rodeo after the surgery and the emotions that came with it.
“Course we were there. It was nerve-racking to watch her run go and knew that her depth perception was off, and that she would have blind spots. And just she did really well and then after that I just didn’t really worry about it too much.”
For a family that spends more time in their arena than in their living room, rodeo is a staple. And Jacey is grateful to her parents who have helped her throughout this process.
“I would not be where I am at all without them. Between the horses they put me on, the trailers they’ve given me, the fees they’ve helped me with when I couldn’t afford them myself, the ‘I can’t practice by myself’ and they always just say ‘yep we’ll stay out there as long as you need’ whenever I want to practice. I’d be a fraction of what I am without them.
The challenges she’s faced have helped Jacey place less emphasis on the competition... and more on her teammates.
“I’ve met my best friends at college, college rodeoing specifically. How many people can say they can hang out with their niece every night doing stuff like this? I have an incredible bond with my siblings because of it. And my parents, I owe my parents the world because of what they’ve done for me and how much time we’ve spent together.”
Jacey’s parents will be with her again as she goes to nationals for the fourth time. The college national finals rodeo runs all week through the 19th.