HEBER CITY — Perhaps more than any other sport, rodeo builds a passion in people that is passed down from one generation of a family to the next.
And Ashley Allen of Eagle Mountain is a prime example of that.
Her parents, Rusty and Fawn Allen, both participated in rodeo throughout high school and college.
Fawn — she was Fawn Kennedy back then — graduated from Fremont High School in 1995 and, two years later, helped lead the Weber State women's rodeo team to a national collegiate championship. She still competes in barrel racing at local rodeos and spends much of her time training horses.
Rusty, who grew up in Lehi, participated in the Utah High School Rodeo finals all four years of his prep career, riding bulls and saddle broncs. He then rodeoed at Weber State and was a highly successful professional cowboy for many years, qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo five times in saddle bronc riding. He made his last NFR appearance in 2008.
"I had some pretty good luck in high school," he said modestly. "I made nationals all four years in one event or another.
"But the sport puts a lot of wear and tear on your body," said Rusty, who had knee surgery last October. "And you start feeling it every morning when you wake up."
He and Fawn first met at the Utah High School Rodeo finals — where else? — when they were teenagers. And that's where you'll find them Saturday evening, watching their oldest daughter Ashley compete in the final performance of this year's annual event at the Wasatch County Rodeo Grounds.
The four-day prep rodeo wraps up with the cow-cutting championship round at 1 p.m., with the championship performances in all other events getting underway at 5 p.m.
The top four finishers in each event will qualify for the National High School Rodeo finals in July, and Ashley Allen, who just completed her junior year at Lehi High, has her sights set on earning a nationals berth in goat tying.
"It's really, like, a big deal," she said of going to the national prep rodeo next month in Wyoming. "It's what we work for all year.
"This is my third year going to the state finals, and I missed nationals last year so I'm really trying to get there this year."
She's been competing in barrel racing, breakaway roping and goat tying at the state finals, but her best bet for a nationals berth is in the goat-tying event, where she stood in fifth place entering Friday night's performance.
As to her chances of reaching the national championship event this year, she said, "They're still really good. I just need to go out and make two more good runs. I've got to make two smooth runs and be fast."
Ashley said that, early on when she started learning her way around a horse at a young age, she focused strictly on barrel racing.
"I just always wanted to run barrels, and I really didn't want to do anything else," she said. "Then in the eighth grade, I got kinda bored with doing just the barrels.
"I saw my friends going to all these rodeos and I didn't really run at many rodeos before that. So I wanted to start trying to tie goats and doing (breakaway) roping."
Of course, it helps having a pair of parents who have spent much of their adult lives around rodeos and horses and know all the ins and outs of the sport. What's more, her grandparents and two of her aunts have been involved in rodeo, too.
Although Rusty, currently an event director for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, is glad that Ashley followed in his and his wife's horse-loving footsteps, he says it was his daughter's idea to do so all along.
"Of course, she grew up around it," he said. "But we've always given her a choice to pick what she wanted to do. If Ashley wanted to do something else (besides rodeo), we'd support her in that, too."
Asked what the most important thing is that she's learned about rodeo from her parents, the 17-year-old pointed to a quality she said will serve her well not only in competitive sports but, more importantly, throughout all of her other life experiences as well.
"Don't give up," she said, realizing how important it was to not be discouraged by disappointments that might come along. "When things don't go my way, then I just want to work that much harder."
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