It has now been longer since I have worked on the racetrack than the number of years that I was actually there. I worked at the racetrack for 17 years and I have been away for 18 years. And yet it seems like yesterday when I was last there.
When I left the track I really believed that it was only for a short time. I was pregnant with Kaity and the doctor had put me on full bed rest. My husband and I were separated and contemplating divorce. It was a time of struggle and I imagined that I would be back at the track and amongst my friends within days after Kaity was born.
But as we all know, life is not always as we plan for it.
Kaity was born with several birth defects with the most pressing being congenital heart disease. She was in the intensive care unit for months and by the time the two of us were back home I knew that my life had changed forever.
Rather than being back working in the racing office with Kaity sleeping in a snuggly she was in a crib with feeding tubes and machines hooked up to her around the clock. And instead of being able to go back to working seven days a week I was having to figure out how to work to pay the bills and still be able to watch her 24 hours a day.
The racetrack to me was more than a job. I loved the horses and I loved the racing. But first and foremost the racetrack had given me a sense of family that I had never felt before. Growing up had been a struggle for me. These days we look at children who do not fit in and we work to give them the tools that they can use to help adjust to life. But back then it was something that just was not even considered. Growing up I had heard over and over that I was a very expendable part of my family and that if I did not appreciate being in a family I was welcome to leave at any time. Looking back now I can see that my parents did the best that they knew how to do. They were married at an extremely young age and I was born a year later. Alcohol played a large part in our family and while it was an accepted part of life in those days I now see that it played a part in the way that my family interacted with each other.
As an adult I had come to realize and accept that my parents were alcoholics but I did not realize it back then. It just seemed that everyone's parents drank every single day and that it was a normal way of life. But as an adult it became clear (after my brother, sister in law and many childhood friends helped point it out to me) that there was much more than just social drinking that was a factor in my childhood days.
So as an adult I get it. I know that my parents did the best that they could and that for some reason their lives were not what they had hoped they would be. And that I and my brother were casualties of that mind set. My brother often pointed out to me that he had chosen to live across the country from then as an adult for a reason. But even as a young adult I was desperate for my parents love and approval. And while it was painful to me then, it was excruciating to me as a child. I just felt that it was obvious that there was something wrong with me when even your own parents tell you that they do not love you. Because if your own family does not love you then who ever will?
But when I started working at the racetrack I felt as though this must be what family feels like to most people. I was surrounded by people who cared about me and I felt a part of things for the first time in my life. And while there was the usual broken heart every now and then and some generally sad times, at least I felt as though I was with my 'family' to help me get through these growing pains.
So when I realized that I had to leave to care for Kaity it was beyond description. My friends continued to call and try to stay in touch, but their friendship was actually more painful and more of a reminder of what I was losing than it was comforting. They kept talking about the future and that they knew that at some point everything would be back to normal and that I would be able to come 'home' and bring Kaity with me. And yet I knew down inside that I would never be able to come home with Kaity because I would not be able to go back and still be the kind of mother that Kaity would need.
So I left for good. I moved to Oregon to get away from everyone and all of the memories. I went back in to the show horse world that I had known growing up and refused to stay in touch with anyone. Slowly people stopped calling until finally I had gotten what I wanted- complete solitude from anything involving the racetrack. I refused to watch racing on television and avoided conversations with any horse people that referred at all to the track. When the track was brought up by show people I never even shared that I had ever been a part of that life. It was horrible- but it was the only way that I knew to get through the transition.
Then about 6 years ago I started missing it again. Things had been fine. Kaity was growing up and still needed extra care but it was better than before. I had a good life with my new friends. I was involved in lots of dog sports and still had saddle horses in my back yard. But something was missing.
I knew that my life at the track was over. But for the first time I wasn't so sure that it could not still be a part in some small way. And then one day driving to work (I was working as a real estate investment officer) I decided that it was time to start getting my life back on track.
So I set up some major needs in my life.....
1) I needed to be able to live where I had my horses in the back yard and where my dogs had a yard to play in.
2) I needed to be near major hospitals for Kaity.
3) The property could not be expensive (less than $100k).
4) I needed to be near a mid to large size airport so that I could fly to my dog judging assignments.
All of the above had already been a part of my choices in where I lived. But now I added one more need to the list...
5) I needed to be within 30 miles of a solvent racetrack.
And that was the thing that changed my life.
I looked all across the country and only came up with a couple of options. All of the above were easy....but keeping it within my budget was the killer of most of my options. But I looked hard and came up with Oklahoma City. I was not sure how successful the racetrack in OKC was since I had not kept up with industry news, but I decided that a quick phone call was not too much to do and so I called Remington Park.
My timing was pretty amazing. Just days before, the state of Oklahoma had passed a ruling that a casino could be built within the grandstands of the racetrack. The person that I spoke to that day admitted that prior to this vote, racing prospects were looking pretty dim for the future of Oklahoma. But with this successful outcome of just days before, it was hoped that the viability of racing would now be more likely than at any other time in history.
That was all I needed to hear. I knew that the timing of my phone call was more than a coincidence. I also knew that it was time to head to the Sooner state.
Within days I had purchased a house sight unseen over the Internet. It was a foreclosure and I was warned that it was in terrible shape. But it was on 5 acres, it could be fixed and it was within 25 minutes of Remington Park. I was not sure why that was important- but I knew that this was meant to be.
So here I live....and while I accept that my life as it was at the track will never be the same, it is a comfort to know that it is there. I go to the races on occasion. I am back in touch with many of my racetrack friends (many of whom have retired and gone on to different lives themselves over the years) and I am able to blend my current life with my past....... and more importantly with my future.
It is not the way that I had envisioned it........but it is pretty darn good.
Thanks for listening,