COLUMBIA — Jeremy Kempker loves the rodeo, for better or for worse.
Seven years ago, while training a horse, Kempker’s ropes got tangled. The horse’s head yanked backward, causing the horse to flip over and land on him.
The saddle horn on the horse landed on his lower stomach, pushing his small intestine into his backbone.
It cut the small intestine in four places in the process. Kempker required surgery where one foot of his small intestine had to be removed.
Kempker, 18, could have been scarred, but he wasn’t.
“I was out two months,” he said. “I was dying to get back on.”
Flash forward to this January when Kempker woke up feeling stomach pains. He had another problem with his small intestine – a fallout of his previous injury -- and he had to have another four inches of his small intestine remove.
When talking about the event, Kempker shrugs off the memories because of his passion for the sport.
“It’s all I’ve ever done,” Kempker said. “I’ve played some basketball, but I quit because it was holding me back from the rodeo.”
After events, such as this weekend's Missouri High School Rodeo State Finals, Kempker says he spends his down time preparing for the rodeo.
"After rodeo (a competition) you go home and practice," the Eugene native said. "I do it every day."
This same passion is the reason he is forgoing college to pursue professional rodeo.
“I didn’t like high school much. I’d rather save money and enter the rodeo.”
Jeremy Kempker’s older brother, Jared, is the biggest opponent of this idea.
“He should go to school,” Jared Kempker said. “That’s the smartest thing.”
His brother rides rodeo at Missouri Valley College in Marshall and competes professionally.
Jeremy Kempker's parents are supportive of his decision, noting that professional rodeo has been his dream ever since he was young.
His mother, Donnette Kempker, is not nervous about her son's future and believes in her son’s abilities.
“He’s determined. He’s got a lot of will power. And when he sets his mind to it, he generally succeeds.”
Jeremy Kempker understands both sides of the issue. And for him, he loves the rodeo, and that's all that matters.
“It’s my dream,” Jeremy Kempker said. “I think I can do it and it’s something I’ve always wanted to do.”
"You should follow your dreams," Mark Kempker, Jeremy Kempker's father, said. "It's not always about the money. If you have a good idea of what you want to be in life, you should do it, regardless."
Kempker said his biggest inspiration was his dad.
“He’s always been a helper. He’s been tough on me and just kept me moving.”
Mark Kempker competed in the rodeo when he was younger and calls the sport of calf roping – Jeremy Kempker’s best event – an art.
“It’s not only physical, it’s a mental sport too. You’re dealing with two different animals. Not to mention the other people your competing against in the event," Mark Kempker said.
Jeremy Kempker said he was disappointed by his performance this weekend at the Missouri High School Rodeo State Finals. He remained optimistic, which is something he tries to incorporate into his overall rodeo mentality.
“I never think of failing. Always go in with a positive," Jeremy Kempker said. “Sometimes you don’t come out smelling like a rose, but you jump right back in.”
Another element of Jeremy Kempker’s rodeo persona is his relationship with his animals. His family provides some of the calves and steer for events, but the greater relationship is between Jeremy Kempker and his horse.
“If you take care of the horse the way you should, he’ll take care of you,” Jeremy Kempker said.
“It’s a cowboy sport. They always care of their stock,” Mark Kempker said.
Jeremy Kempker has rode over ten horses since he started competing in rodeo, and he has been riding his newest horse, Jelly Bean, for two months.
He and Jelly Bean will compete in the national calf-roping event in July after he placed third Saturday. Jeremy Kempker hopes to repeat last year’s success at nationals where he was the all around champion.
Columbia rodeo participants, Brady and Tory Chasteen, will also be competing in nationals after winning the team roping event.