Phoenix Rising: On horses, sisters, and dreams
Three years ago, local eventing rider Jessica Phoenix’s Olympic dreams turned to heartbreak when her horse, Exploring, suffered an injury just prior to boarding a plane destined for the Beijing Olympics. Instead, Phoenix and Exploring returned home, devastated.
After the shock wore off, Jessie was more determined than ever to secure a place on the Canadian Eventing Team for the 2012 London Olympics. She has since garnered attention at the some of the most prestigious competitions in the world. Jessie’s impressive results have qualified her for the next year’s Olympics with her new mount, Exponential, and have earned her a spot with another mount, Pavarotti, to compete at the Pan American Games in Mexico this month.
I met Jessie 27 years ago, when my parents brought her home as my new baby sister. I felt like the luckiest girl alive when I first saw her and I still feel that way today.
Jessie has always been a daredevil with a need for speed. As a kid, she would race her snowmobile through the fields behind our family farm on the 6th Concession, soaring off jumps at full tilt. As a teenager, her red Camero was pulled over for speeding many times on the back roads of Uxbridge Township. As an adult, she has harnessed this love affair by competing in a sport filled with both, while indulging her competitive nature.
Jessie has always been more of an animal lover than a people person; a horse whisperer of sorts. Some question how this petite 5’5″ woman can turn wild horses into puppy dogs and drive her 34-foot truck and trailer better than most truck drivers, but a transformation happens when Jessie gets on a horse.
The sport of eventing goes over three days and includes dressage, cross country jumping and stadium jumping. The pairs with the best scores earn a spot on the podium.
“My goal for the Pan Ams is to win individual and team gold medals,” she says. “In the spring I’ll be doing a three-star event with Pavarotti to qualify him for the 2012 Olympics. I hope he will be my back-up horse for Exponential.” Jessie learned a painful lesson in 2008, and qualifying two horses is her way of avoiding a similar situation.
“That experience was the most devastating thing I’ve had to deal with, but it made me stronger as a person and as an athlete,” she says. “When things go right you, celebrate and when they don’t you deal with it.”
Jessie had a son, Jacob in 2010. Experiencing parenthood in the middle of her Olympic quest has put her goals into perspective, but not deterred her from chasing her dreams. She is now more focused and driven than ever – just with a bigger cheering section.
Julie Fitz-Gerald is a freelance writer based in Uxbridge, where she resides with her husband and two young sons