Brianne Baty was the first to reach her coach?s side after he had been bucked off a horse during rough stock practice last fall.
Sonny Hansen was motionless and unresponsive after landing head first, and died two days later from traumatic head injuries.
The Treasure Valley Community College coach was 43. His Oct. 4 funeral on the Ontario, Ore., campus was attended by nearly 2,500 people.
?I?m never going to be OK with what happened, but I realized that I had to keep going,? said Baty, now a junior at TVCC.
?More than anything, I have dedicated my entire year toward Sonny. I want to do good for him because he is the only reason why I came back to school and came back to rodeo. He believed in me and wanted me to do good.?
The weight of her grief is still difficult to bear, but Baty hasn?t let her former coach down. She finished the regular season No. 1 in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo all-around standings and has qualified for the 64th annual College National Finals Rodeo, which started Sunday and continues through Saturday at the Casper Events Center in Casper, Wyo.
Eleven Treasure Valley CC athletes ? seven men and four women ? qualified for the CNFR, where Hansen?s widow and sons will be presented with the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association?s Coach of the Year award Wednesday.
?This award, though given posthumously, is proof that Sonny?s spirit and legacy lives on in college rodeo,? NIRA Commissioner Roger Walters said. ?We are lucky to have such an outstanding individual to be named NIRA Coach of the Year.?
Baty ? a 2009 Middleton High graduate and former Idaho high school all-around champion ? is competing this week in breakaway roping and goat tying with her 9-year-old quarter horse Hickory. She hopes to emerge with the all-around title by the time champions are crowned Saturday night.
?Normally I?ve done pretty good, but this year has just been out of this world. I?ve never done this well,? Baty said. ?I just can?t help but think that it?s because he is with me the whole entire time helping me.?
This is Baty?s third consecutive appearance at the CNFR, where she has finished as high as ninth in goat tying.
But it?s her first without Hansen. And as she has done all season, Baty plans to wear a belt buckle engraved with Hansen?s name during competition.
?I feel like if I wear that buckle he?s there, he?s watching,? she said. ?... We all know how hard this is going to be. Some of us who have been to the college finals before with Sonny are going to have a hard time.
?He was always there for us. He was always the pickup man, so it will be hard not seeing him in the arena.?
Athletes from the University of Idaho, Idaho State and the College of Southern Idaho also are represented at the national finals. More than 400 cowboys and cowgirls, and more than 100 teams are competing.
Rachel Roberts: 377-6422, Twitter: @IDS_VarsityX