By: Kendra Santos
Don’t talk to Josie Conner about being devastated by life’s little letdowns. She and her parents, Jade and Wendi, had their house and barn demolished by Hurricane Laura—a Category-4 storm that basically wiped out Lake Charles, Louisiana, and tied the Last Island Hurricane of 1856 as the strongest on record to make landfall in The Pelican State—in the early morning hours of August 27. Despite Laura’s deadly destruction, and the area flooding that followed courtesy of Hurricane Delta in early October, 17-year-old Josie’s been on one of the biggest fall rodeo rolls in the entire sport.
“We were evacuated, and left home (in rural Iowa, Louisiana, 10 minutes east of Lake Charles) a few days before Laura hit,” said Josie, who’s recently racked up $36,000 in breakaway roping earnings. “The Guy Ranch (home to cowgirl kingpin Lari Dee) in Abilene, Texas, is nine hours from here, and that’s been our second home. That’s where we went for about three weeks to wait out the hurricanes that were happening here in Louisiana. (The Conner-Guy connection goes back to another current Guy Ranch resident, Hope Thompson, who lived with the Conner family for several years while attending McNeese State University in Lake Charles.)
“When we packed up our clothes to leave, they were only expecting a Category-2 storm. We had no idea a Category 4 was coming. It took awhile to get word on how badly our place was hit. Then family started sending us pictures. Our house was totaled from the front side. The brick columns went through the front of the house, and a lot of the shingles on the roof were lost. We returned home to water damage and mold. The winds were so high from the hurricanes that we think tornadoes hit here, too. It’s crazy how one thing will look perfectly normal, when the thing that used to be right next to it is now gone. But losing our house and our barn was nothing next to Lake Charles looking like a war zone.”
On the bright side, besides two twisted I-beams, their indoor arena is still standing. So she’s been able to stay practiced up, which made this winning streak possible. The Conners are already working to replace the barn, and plan to rebuild their home on a different part of the property.
On the foundation of hard work as a family, Josie and sorrel sidekick Tonka’s recent rodeo highlights reel includes the average win and reserve Cowboys Professional Rodeo Association year-end championship at the October 9-10 finals in Giddings, Texas, for about $4,000; the win at the Oklahoma’s Richest Open Breakaway Roping on October 17 at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma, which was worth $11,500; and the co-championship with Alex Flautt at last weekend’s inaugural San Angelo (Texas) Roping Fiesta Women’s Invitational Breakaway Roping for about $8,000.
When the San Angelo Roping Fiesta committee got wind of the Conner family’s staggering losses at home, they generously offered $500 in travel money, which covered high school junior Josie’s entry fees. Including money she won there at the Cody Ohl junior ropings, the teen roping phenom left San Angelo about $13,000 richer.
These recent windfall wins could not have happened at a better time for the Conner family, which are three huge-hearted members of the rodeo family. Jade Conner was recently called out on social media for his good deeds in helping young people he doesn’t even know at rodeo events. For those who don’t remember his rodeo history, Jade was a Top 15 tie-down roper riding into the regular-season finish line in 2003, the fall their only child was born. When Wendi had late-pregnancy issues, Jade pulled up and went home to be with her. He put his family first, and finished 17th and just short of his only shot at a National Finals Rodeo back number. He never left his girls again.
The first-ever Wrangler National Finals Breakaway Roping will be held December 8-10 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, in conjunction with the 2020 NFR. Having just turned 17 on October 2, Josie is too young to be eligible to compete at the $200,000 NFBR. But two of her cowgirl heroes—Guy and Thompson—will be there.
Guy and Thompson are also on the roster alongside Josie at the historic $750,000 Women’s Rodeo World Championship, which is right around the corner—November 8-12 at Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth, with the top six in breakaway roping, team roping and barrel racing advancing to the performances at the 2020 Professional Bull Riders World Finals at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The top four women on the World Champions Rodeo Alliance leaderboard in each event advance to the last-perf Main Event in Fort Worth, and Guy leads the lady headers, while JJ Hampton, Josie, Kelsie Chace and Thompson are ranked first through fourth in the breakaway roping, respectively.
“2020 has been tough on everyone, including my family,” Josie said. “But so much good has come from the bad, and to see how our rodeo family has pitched in and pulled together after all the devastation down here has been amazing. A lot of history is happening right now. The WCRA has done wonders for the breakaway roping and all women in rodeo, and I’m thankful and proud to be a part of it.”