Following a serious eye injury, former SDSU Rodeo Team member and recent SDSU alum, Jacey Hupp, looks forward to her future
Looking Ahead: Following a serious eye injury, former SDSU Rodeo Team member and recent SDSU alum, Jacey Hupp, looks forward to her future
BROOKINGS, S.D. – Rodeo has always been a family affair for recent 2020 agricultural communications graduate Jacey Hupp. At 8 years of age, Hupp started her rodeo career in 4-H where she competed in goat tying, breakaway roping, flag racing, barrel racing, pole bending, team roping and ribbon roping events.
“I grew up in the saddle – so it’s second nature to me,” said Hupp. “My dad competed in rodeos and when my parents bought our place over 20 years ago, the first thing they did was build an arena. It’s something my family and my three sibling and I have always loved to do together.”
Upon graduating high school in 2015, Hupp had her sight set on playing collegiate volleyball. However, her older sister Tarin, who was a member of the SDSU Rodeo Team at the time, had convinced her otherwise.
“I was pretty set on playing volleyball and then my sister talked me into trying college rodeo for a year and I have no regrets,” said Hupp. “I joined the team when my sister was a senior at SDSU, so she kind of took me under her wing and showed me the ropes.”
Hupp is the third of her siblings to compete on the SDSU Rodeo Team behind her brother, Trevor, who competed from 2009-2014 and her sister, Tarin, who competed from 2012-2016.
“Being on the team with my sister was so special,” said Hupp. “Not a lot of people get to do that.”
For the next four years, Hupp went on to become an integral member of the SDSU Rodeo Team and a five-time College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) qualifier. She competed in goat tying, breakaway roping and served as the header for team roping. Hupp has notable finishes in goat tying at the CNFR, finishing third during her freshman year in 2016, winning the round her sophomore year in 2017 and placing fifth during her junior year in 2018.
A Change of Pace
On October 6, 2018, Hupp and a few of her teammates had the weekend off and decided to compete in team roping at a fundraiser jackpot rodeo in McCook, Nebraska, to practice and prepare for their next college rodeo. Hupp was competing in the third round when she went to dally and her rope slid down around the steer’s horn, snapped and hit her right eye.
“People in the arena said it sounded like a gunshot going off,” said Hupp. “I remember looking in the mirror and I wasn’t sure if my eye was even there anymore.”
After visiting a doctor weekly for two months following the accident, it was decided that Hupp would need to undergo surgery. She made the decision to take the remainder of her senior year off from college to heal from her injury and returned to SDSU to finish her degree in fall 2019.
“Because my eye was so swelled up, it took us a while to really know how bad it was,” said Hupp. “Once things started clearing up, the doctors noticed that there were more complications with my eye than they originally had thought. I knew I couldn’t rodeo, but I didn’t know if I should go back to school. I had so many decisions to make.”
Further observation revealed that Hupp was missing parts of her retina and her pupil was broken, which caused her to have constant migraines and severe light sensitivity.
“I had to wear sunglasses or an eye patch everywhere I went, as the pressure in my eye was much higher than normal eye pressure,” said Hupp.
After rescheduling four different times, Hupp eventually underwent surgery on July 9, 2019. Her right eye is now 70%-80% fake, as they had to replace her iris with an artificial one and implant shunts to help with eye drainage. Hupp is the first person in South Dakota to ever receive an artificial iris, which was handmade in Germany and hand painted to match her left eye.
When describing her recovery from the injury, Hupp said it was not as bad as she originally imagined it would be.
“I had to be really conscious of how much I was practicing and sleep was really important because my eye needed to heal and rest,” said Hupp. “It really made me slow down.”
In August 2019, Hupp was able to get back on her horse and begin to compete again.
Back in the Saddle
Having qualified for the 2019 CNFR and being unable to compete due to her injury, Hupp was granted a medical hardship by the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association which would allow her to make up her senior rodeo season when she returned to campus for the 2019-2020 academic year. Nearly a year later in September 2019, Hupp was able to compete in her first college rodeo since her injury. She went on to qualify for the 2020 CNFR, however that was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This year was supposed to be my comeback/miracle year, said Hupp. “It really hurt when the CNFR was cancelled – I felt like I had some unfinished business and I never got the chance to redeem myself.”
Although the rodeo season was cut short due to the pandemic, Hupp is grateful for the extra time she was able to spend with her horses, improving their performance and forming a stronger bond with them.
Hupp credits some of her favorite college memories to the time she spent on the SDSU Rodeo Team.
“I was so bummed about the cancellation of my season, but I was able to do something I love, with people I love and for a school I love,” said Hupp. “It’s going to take more than losing an eye to get me out of this sport.”
Throughout her four years on the team, Hupp was named the Reserve Champion Great Plains Region Goat Tier both during her freshman and sophomore years and the Champion Great Plains Region Goat Tier during her junior and senior years. Additionally, she was named the Reserve All-Around Champion during her junior year.
Hupp plans to continue competing in rodeos and hopes to inspire other young rodeo athletes to overcome hardships and continue to rodeo like she has.
“Over the past 11 years of coaching the SDSU Rodeo Team, I have had select few team members with a top level of talent and mental toughness,” said SDSU Rodeo Team Coach Ron Skovly. “Jacey was not only in this category, but she was also very coachable during good or bad times. I know that this will continue to help her be successful in her future in rodeo and her career path. She will be missed here at SDSU!”
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