While it didn’t result in an individual state title, placing fourth in pole bending at the conclusion of the Idaho High School Finals Rodeo on June 15 was a victory in its own right for Jessi Farr.
The top-four finish in Pocatello qualified the Challis cowgirl for the National High School Finals Rodeo for the first time in three years. Since her last trip to nationals as a freshman, Farr tore her ACL twice, missed almost two years of basketball, did home school for a year, competed on Challis High School’s first-ever golf team, received a rodeo scholarship to the University of Montana-Western and graduated as valedictorian of the Challis class of 2019.
As Farr competes in Rock Springs, Wyoming, this week, she expressed gratitude for being back at the finals and eagerness to improve on her 24th place finish in pole bending in 2016.
“I’m so excited to go,” Farr said by phone. “I made it on the same horse I made it on my freshman year. I ran him forever. He’s been my No 1. I wasn’t sure he really had it left in him to be that good, but he did. It was just so rewarding. My goal is to place in one of the rounds, place top 10 in one of the rounds and make the short go.”
Jessi’s father Jerrod Farr, who is an outfitter and the Challis varsity boys basketball head coach, witnessed firsthand how his daughter reached this point. A Challis graduate and former Vikings basketball player, Jerrod said his daughter has always had a fierce drive and competitive nature, but her experiences from the last three years have made her more driven and mature.
“She’s definitely very mentally tough, even more so now,” Jerrod said by phone. “She grew up fast when all that happened. Now she handles failure a lot better.”
Two tears four months apart
Farr’s high school sports debut was a notable one. She was part of a Challis girls basketball team which entered the 1A Division I District 5-6 tournament as the No. 3 seed and went on to win its second consecutive district championship and reach the state third-place game. In rodeo, Farr reached the IHSFR in five events and claimed state runner-up in pole bending to qualify for the NHSFR.
Five games into her sophomore basketball season Farr injured herself and learned she had torn the ACL in her right knee. She had surgery and within four months was eager to rodeo. At a physical test at her doctor’s office, she retore the same ACL.
Jerrod said Jessi’s doctor informed her that no additional damage could be done if she postponed surgery. While her sophomore season was the only time in her rodeo career that she did not win district all-around cowgirl, she did reach her second consecutive state finals and placed seventh in barrel racing, 15th in pole bending and 10th in breakaway roping. Wearing a brace allowed her to compete, but presented challenges for such an active person.
“Rodeo is probably the toughest sport in the world,” Jerrod said. “Even the toughest hands don’t win all the time. Lots of times through the season just walking around, her leg would just buckle and her leg gave out. It was just extremely hard for her. She couldn’t do all the things she loved to do.”
Following surgery in July 2017, Farr was even more cautious than after her first ACL tear. She credited Jerrod and her brother Scotty for helping and motivating her during her recovery.
Aware that she would miss her entire junior season of basketball, she opted to home school her junior year. She traveled to Arizona rodeos during the winter and went on to win her first District 1 all-around cowgirl title since her freshman year, reaching her third consecutive IHSFR. While being home allowed her more time to train for rodeo, she kept up with the workload for her online classes and finished her junior year with a 4.0 grade point average.
“It was definitely different,” Jessi said. “I enjoyed it, but I was glad to go back to school my senior year.”
‘Everything happens for a reason’
While Jessi described herself as an athlete who has never battled nerves before a sporting event, she did feel nervous upon her return to the court last winter after nearly two years away. There was no pain when she played, although she had to ice her knee every night. She was a much different player than before her surgeries.
“For the first quite a few games, I didn’t trust my knee,” Jessi said. “I didn’t want something to happen again. I definitely didn’t play the same style I used to. I used to be pretty quick and all over the place. As the season went on, I feel like I got into my groove a little more.”
Jerrod, too, noticed how differently she played post-surgery. The family was on the fence about whether it was worth returning for her final season of high school basketball, he said. As was true during her recovery, he and Scotty were there to encourage her.
“She didn’t get to play at the level she wanted to play even as a senior,” Jerrod said. “She’s just so competitive. That’s the hardest thing for her is not being able to compete at the highest level. We just tried to keep her in it mentally, to keep her positive and not dwelling on the mistakes she was making.”
Jessi was one of four seniors for the Vikings, who went 10-13 this season. Growing up in a basketball family and playing since she was 7, Jessi said she likely would have continued playing basketball in college. Her two ACL tears changed that course, but another opportunity came in the form of a rodeo scholarship from Montana Western.
“I think if I wouldn’t have ever gotten hurt in basketball, I think that’s the route I would’ve went,” Jessi said. “But missing so much, my rodeo got stronger.”
She shared in history this spring on the first-ever Challis golf team. The question for Farr, who had played golf before and owned a set of clubs, was if she could balance golf with rodeo. She was part of a second-place finish for the Challis girls at the 2A District 6 tournament and sixth place finish at the 2A state tournament.
Pulling off the rare rodeo-golf combination, however, required long days. She drove straight home from school every day to tack up her horses, load them into a horse trailer, go to golf practice and then the arena before returning to her family’s 60-acre home around 9 p.m.
“People at the golf course would always laugh at me because I’d pull up to the golf course with the horse trailer,” Farr said with a laugh. “That’s not something you see every day. I live like 15 minutes out of town. I didn’t want to have to make trips back and forth, so I brought them with me.”
The juggling paid off athletically as well as academically. She reached state in both sports and graduated as valedictorian, the latter of which Farr described as especially rewarding upon returning to Challis after a year of home school.
Graduation was also a proud moment for Jerrod, who said his daughter’s work ethic is his highest point of pride.
“She’s had some great mentors around here that have helped her out,” Jerrod said. “She’s not scared of much. She gets up early before school, works on her ball handling or works on her shooting or works on her horses. You don’t see a lot of kids with her kind of drive.”
Jerrod is confident Jessi will leave her mark wherever she lands. In 18 years, he has seen her go from a 5-year-old who declared she wanted to rodeo to a 10-year-old who rode steers to a freshman who set screens on senior boys during basketball open gym to a young adult who accompanied him on hunting trips and helped him with his outfitter business.
“She always demands more of herself than anybody else,” Jerrod said. “She’s had some tough luck, but she’s persevered through all of it.”