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Navajo rodeo athlete takes next step at WC


Faith Holyan grew up in the Navajo Nation in New Mexico in a family with a rich rodeo heritage. Now, as she enters the world of college rodeo, she is using her experience for more than winning buckles.

Faith Holyan / Rodeo“I basically grew up in a rodeo family, so ultimately I think I became a rodeo athlete because it is what my family did,” she said. “Rodeo has been a way of life for my family and extended family members.

“Growing up on the reservation and being Native American, the animals and livestock have been a way of life for many generations not just in the arena, so in essence our animals and rodeo become our livelihood. I was always raised, that while rodeo is a great sport, it is a hard way to make a living. And while I am hopeful to be successful, I was also taught to use my rodeo as a way to get an education. No one can take away your education, and it can be used forever and ever.”

Holyan, a freshman at Weatherford College, is a two-time Indian National Finals Rodeo world champion, winning the ladies All-Around title at age 14 and the ladies breakaway roping championship at age 16. In addition, she qualified for the Junior High National Finals Rodeo three times, the National High School Finals Rodeo three times and was the Arizona state breakaway champion in 2017.

Holyan’s prestigious family rodeo heritage, especially in the INFR, includes her father being nine-time INFR world champion, and her mother is a seven-time world champion. Her brother, Dean, has two world championships, and her cousin, Kassidy Dennison, has eight world titles.

And it was in those same INFR rodeos where Faith honed her skills.

“There are plenty of rodeos held within the Navajo Nation. On any given weekend there are at least three to four rodeos going on,” Holyan said. “The Navajo Nation itself is the size of the State of West Virginia. There’s also the Indian National Finals Rodeo Association that has representation of tribes throughout the United States and Canada.
“I primarily attend these rodeos because it gives you an opportunity to compete for a lot of added money and a chance to attend the INFR held in Las Vegas. Recently, though, the INFR world champions proceed to the American semifinals, which I think is a huge bonus.”

Her main events are breakaway roping and barrel racing. She said barrels are probably her favorite event when pressed on the subject, but she has had some recent challenges in that event recently.

“Last year I lost my great horse Apollo. It was very devastating. He was my teammate and we had big goals,” she said. “I’ve always love running barrels and only started roping because of the All-Around standings or awards. I’ve had to work very hard at becoming a roper but now I have a lot of fun trying to beat my own times and making sure I handled my rope as sharp as I can.”

Holyan’s focus in life goes beyond the rodeo arena. She’s a spokesperson for the #codepurple campaign that she began after a friend committed suicide.

“I remember laying in my room thinking what and how did this happen? Honestly, I really didn’t understand it. I was one of the last people he reached out to on social media,”

she recalled. “I wish I had known he was in distress because I would have taken the time to talk to him, but he didn’t share with me what he was going through.

“Because of that I started #codepurple among our Indian Rodeo Association and contestants. By simply using the #codepurple among each other we wouldn’t have to say anything, it simply is a message to let each other know we want to talk or are struggling.”

WC head rodeo coach Johnny Emmons said he’s very glad to have Holyan on his squad.

“She’s pretty awesome,” he said. “We are proud to have Faith here at WC. She’s a very bright and talented young lady. She comes in with national championship-type experience and will help improve our team.”

Holyan is also getting comfortable with public speaking and being able to represent different projects and companies, including modeling for a few brands.

“I have modeled for a few companies, primarily Native American jewelers,” she added. “I don’t know that I will make a career out of it. If it works out that way, then I would gladly move in that direction because I do enjoy it.”

But her dream is competing in rodeo professionally.

“I ultimately hope that I will be able to travel this path,” she said. “I do know how hard it can be both financially and competitively, but I do hope that I can step up as a competitor to that level.

“I’m so glad to be a part of the WC rodeo team. It is quite away from my family and home, but I knew that if I wanted to grow in the sport that I love that I had to go where some of the best competitors are from. You never know where your journey will take you, so I’m hopeful that this journey will lead me to many other opportunities in and out of the arena.”

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