She’s So Brave – Darcy Cotnam
So state your name for the record.
Perfect. How old are you Darcy?
And tell us a little about what makes you, you?
What makes me, me? Well, I work at Spruce Meadows. I’ve been working there for seven years almost! I run the crew that does all the event setups, weddings meetings, trade shows, horse shows, everything. I love it.
Is this what you were hoping to do?
No honestly, I would have never guessed that I would be in the event world. When I started working (there) I worked on the ground department, and I did all the decor for the shows. I actually used to work on the ring, which was perfect for me because I used to ride and compete. So working out here was kind of a dream. It’s the number one place in the world for (show jumping) so I’m pretty lucky. I mean now on the event side, I do less stuff with show jumping, but I’m still around it. I guess my major passion… that would have been show jumping. For sure.
How long did you do that for?
I started riding when I was 7. I did western riding first, did jamborees and rail racing. I came out here just to watch one time with my parents and totally just changed my mind. That is what I wanted to do. I was really serious in high school. I lived in Strathmore actually, at the farm where I kept my horse.
What’s your horse’s name?
The horse I had last before I sold him was Wellington.
Did you name him?
No, he came named. And they’re registered under their breed so it would have been a nightmare (to change it). They have passwords and all that sort of stuff. I had him for 4 years. I did well. And then I sold him, and went traveling for a year when I was 18.
Did you go anywhere exciting?
I went to 10 countries I think? Started in New Zealand, did Australia. Then Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Singapore, and stopped in San Francisco on the way home too. It was awesome. Changed me for sure. I learned a lot.
How did it change you?
Well I mean, going away that young you don’t have any real life skills. It just makes you grow up. Taking care of yourself, being accountable… (I) grew up a lot. I came back and I was gonna (take) nursing at mount royal actually. And then I got a summer job here (at Spruce Meadows) and never…
Never looked back?
Yeah! Strange to think how long I’ve been out here actually. I think I found something I really like doing.
I think that’s important in life right?
Yeah, you’ve got to be able to want to go to work in the morning. I mean, of course, it’s work so there are days.
And so what’s the bravest thing you’ve ever done in your life or had to go through?
Well, I’ve been thinking alot about this. I think there (are) two things, both about my parents.
When my dad passed away I went through a really tough time. I didn’t even realize at the time, I was 16, and was kind of a jerk then.
That’s a hard thing to go through at 16.
Yeah and you think you know everything and (you’re) fine. “Whatever, (I’m) a teenager who knows everything.” But I really struggled. I barely… I passed one class in Grade 11. I barely went to school, I got kicked out, my mom and I really fought. Both of us were going through…
Well her husband, your dad…
Well my dad was… not the greatest dude maybe? He was schizophrenic, so about two years before he passed away we didn’t even know where he was. He stole from us, even me. He would pretend to put money into my back account and take it out. I was 15.
That’s rough stuff to deal with.
Yeah it was a lot. I think now that I’m older and have a grasp on my feelings a little more, I realize that it probably molded me into who I am.
Made you a little tougher?
Yeah. And we’ve had a fair amount of family tragedy. You heard my mom’s story, (Joanne). That was a rough couple of years. And my uncle passed away when I was 11, my mom’s dad passed away when she was 9. Just a string of…of…
Difficult things to deal with? Especially when you’re developing and just trying to figure out who you are as a person.
Yeah exactly. And with the riding, it was really something I shared with my dad. He was the first one to take me riding, it was something we always did together.
So he rode too then?
Yeah, my parents had a farm in P.E.I. so they had horses before they had kids. It’s funny, because my brother hates horses. Not so similar that way.
Even that year when (my dad) passed away, I still owned my horse. But I would lie that I was going to go riding but I would just meet up with my friends and do nothing. It was tough to go out there and do what I used to do with him, when I knew he wasn’t around anymore. Even though he’d been gone for 2 years and I didn’t really know where he was, it was different. You’re so mad at him, you think when he actually does pass away it will be easier… it’s not.
I don’t think death is ever easy.
No. So that was a tough one. And just this past year my mom had open heart surgery, had a valve replacement. I didn’t know she even had these heart problems, she’s a pretty secretive lady. She’s always trying to be the tough one. And that was just tough on the other side of things. My mom has always been the brave one, she keeps the family together, she’s the pillar. And to see her at her most vulnerable…
She didn’t want anyone else around, so I was kinda dealing with that by myself, and taking her to the surgery. It’s strange how it brings back everything else. You think, “What would I do without my mom?” So it was tough to see her at a low point like that. She’s always been that one in our family to keep everything together, and that might be me one day. Those are big shoes to fill.
I had some tough times with both my parents. Different, but same sort of feeling. Like my mom said about being brave, “sometimes when you’re forced into it, you’re surprised what you can actually go through, what you can actually handle.”
Humans are pretty resilient.
Yeah. You don’t have a choice, you just do it. I do think those two things have really shaped me into who I am.
For sure. Those are big things.
So what’s it like having an example like your mom?
She’s my hero for sure. She’s been through so much. She’s always been the pillar of strength for everyone: my aunt, me, my brother, my cousins. But I also feel this weird pressure to… you know…
Be like her?
Yeah. And my brother is not as involved in the family, so I do worry that one day her role will be mine.
And I don’t know if I’m as strong as she is.
When you get there I’m sure you’ll surprise yourself.
I hope so. But she’s something else, she really is.
How have those experiences changed you?
I think the whole thing with my dad sometimes makes it difficult for me to trust people, to get close to people, to share things with people.
It’s hard once that’s broken hey?
Yeah, and at such a young age. You don’t always realize its happening. It’s always been hard for me to talk about how I feel or to open up to people and get close. I do think it’s part of that. He really let me down at some points.
And then with my mom, it makes me want to be better. Makes me wanna strive to be there for everyone like she has been. Just to be strong. But I also keep in mind to be a little more open than she is. To let people in.
View the Online Gallery
An online gallery of all her images is available for the next 30 days. From the online gallery you are able to favourite images, order prints and share the gallery with your family and friends. The gallery can be accessed via the link below and you can contact Darcy directly for her secure password.
We are so fortunate to have had the opportunity to photograph Darcy for She’s So Brave and we thank her for sharing her story of bravery with us!
Images by Calgary Portrait Photographer JM Photography © 2017
Some of my Favourite Photos from Darcy’s Session
Darcy’s Portrait Session Details
Date | 10.22.17
Location | Spruce Meadows
Photos by Cally Arsenault
Editing by Kelly Anne Steel
Blog written by Jenna Anderson
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