Firstly, I would like to wish the Injured Jockeys’ Trust a happy birthday and congratulate the trustees who have been involved with the Trust down through the years on the successful implementation of plans to provide such a successful support network for jockeys’. The support network that they provide for retired and incapacitated jockeys is commendable and a vital cog in the wheel for the development of jockeys if they get seriously injured throughout their racing careers.[/highlight]
Before I discuss my career and how it took a turn for the worst before I ever really got going, I would like to take this opportunity to wish Tony Mc Coy the very best of luck with his future endeavours. He was the man that I always aspired to be. His dedication and loyalty to the horse racing industry is truly admirable. To achieve the career heights that Tony did throughout his career is truly inspirational and every young person out there aspiring to be a future champion jockey should base their blueprint on his professionalism.
My personal career as a jockey was the complete opposite of Tony’s, in that, every time I took one step forward something would happen and it would push me two steps back. I was plagued with injuries as a jockey and without prejudice to the trainers who gave me chances throughout my career, a lot of the injuries stemmed from the lack of quality of the horses I was riding at the time. That said, I did manage to ride some very good horses during my time as a jockey but come the days that counted, I was always bypassed for someone more fashionable. The beauty of horseracing lies in its objectivity, that is, to pass the line in front and nothing else matters. That’s how you become remembered within the game but for many aspiring jockeys’ that fails to ever manifest into a reality and I hope my story highlights that there is always another option.
I have broken bones in every part of my body; from bones in my back, shoulders and wrists to name a few, and I will probably suffer from them in years to come, but, on Friday 13th 2009, I suffered the most life changing injury of all when a horse struck me with a kick to the forehead. The injuries I sustained that day have changed my life forever. I fractured my frontal bone over my left eye, which required doctors to place three plates and twelve screws in the front of my head which are there for life and have left a significant scar on my face. Furthermore, I broke my nose and subsequently lost all my smell and taste for about three years but have subsequently regained them albeit not as sensitive as before. My nose required two operations to repair it and it continued to bleed for years after. Additionally, I fractured my occipital bone located at the rear of the head from the impact of falling back onto the ground and suffered brain contusions which saw me spending a lengthy period in Beaumont Hospital.
Months of rehabilitation had passed after the accident when one day I was visiting the hospital for a routine check-up when to my shock the specialist that I was attending broke my heart when he informed me that I should cease my careers in the horseracing industry. I sank in the chair when he told me as I had devoted my whole life to pursuing a dream that was destroyed in seconds before I could ever reach my true potential.
Faced with no leaving cert, in an economy that had collapsed the previous year, I had little or no hope of securing a job and had to act in order to mitigate my circumstances. As a result of having a very limited secondary education, I decided that the most appropriate first step for me would be to get a level 5 qualification and undertook a course in business and information systems where I achieved an overall award of distinction and was awarded student of the year for all my efforts. Then I applied to IT Carlow for a course and I was subsequently introduced to Frank, who I can only describe as one of the most welcoming and understanding individuals that I have ever met. From the initial phone call with him right up to this very day he has supported me in all my endeavours and really has been the light at the end of the tunnel for me and for that reason, I am indebted to him for life.
Helen O’ Sullivan is another member of the Trust that has helped me in every way possible. A successful jockey herself, Helen knows racing inside out and her contacts list is probably more impressive than Tony Mc Coy’s. She has contacts in all walks of life and an incredible understanding of personnel development thus is the ideal person to go to for advice should you require it. The advice that both Helen and Frank have offered to me since I started college has manifested into me achieving a first class honours result every year that I was in college and for that I cannot thank them enough.
The decision to completely end my career in racing was not without inner demons, it played havoc on my emotions. I went through periods of self-doubt and if I am completely honest, periods of depression were also prevalent.
The thing with depression is that it is hard to quantify, that is, at what point do you actually come out and say that you are depressed? Looking back now there was obvious signs that I suffered from it which included gaining weight and insomnia. However, looking back now also, had I hedged my bets a little better when I was younger, I probably would not have went through such a bleak period. Referring to ‘hedging my bets’ I mean that I probably should have completed my secondary education before taking up a full time career which would have placed me in a much better position after my accident, and the largest piece of advice I can offer anyone reading this (jockey or not) is to hedge your bets, and spread the risk, because all it takes is one piece of bad luck to destroy your hopes and dreams and leave your feeling empty and alone. Thankfully, I was surrounded by such supportive individuals that helped me weather the storm and I am now very positive again and prepared to take on the next phase of my life.
Finally, I would like to thank all the other trustees for their valued support, my family and my girlfriend, and I would urge any other jockey in a similar position to mine to seek the advice of the Trust and should I be of any assistance, please have no hesitation in contacting me.