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Thread: "Blink once if you want to stay alive" Billy Shoemaker's story

  1. #1

    "Blink once if you want to stay alive" Billy Shoemaker's story

    His Whole Life Changed in the Blink of an Eye

    LAS VEGAS -- Eleven years ago Monday he was playing golf, drinking and then trying to drive home. He reached for the cell phone, the car veered off the road, he noticed a bridge ahead, he made a quick correction and the car flipped over and over as it rolled down a 50-foot embankment.

    The roof jammed his head into the steering wheel, damaging the fifth, sixth and seventh cervical vertebrae and paralyzing him from his neck down, and as the story goes now in racing circles, Bill Shoemaker was told that day, "Blink once if you want to stay alive, twice if you would like to die."

    He blinked once.

    *

    ELEVEN YEARS ago Monday, coincidentally, the Shoemaker Foundation scheduled a golf tournament here in his name to raise money for those in the racing industry stricken by injury or illness.

    "I rode more than 40,000 horses," Shoemaker said, and of all things he got hurt riding in a Bronco.

    "Eddie Arcaro and I used to talk about it-if we ever fell we hoped to God we never wound up paralyzed. When we were young we'd talk about how we could never put up with something like that. But when it happened, you have no choice. You have to put up with it."

    For most people no introduction is necessary. Shoemaker is a jockey icon, a winner of 8,833 races and 11 Triple Crown events.

    "My parents remember driving home from Las Vegas and hearing of JFK's death," said jockey Gary Stevens, here to play in the tournament. "I remember being at Mammoth, driving home through the desert, hearing about [Shoemaker's] accident on the radio and going just nuts in my car trying to listen to this fading-in-and-out AM radio. There are days like that for people where you just remember where you were."

    *

    ELEVEN YEARS ago Monday, the ordeal began-a metal halo supporting his head, a respirator enabling him to breathe. But now he breathes into a tube, the wheelchair moves and the conversation jumps from subject to subject.

    As small as he had to be as a jockey, his little body is almost lost in the big chair. And beyond the alert eyes, it's the hands that grab your attention, the famous soft hands that made him one with a horse, which are now sitting there palms flat and looking as soft as ever. But unable to move.

    "No, I never said, 'Why me?' It was like in racing when I lost, maybe something happened, maybe it was my fault. It didn't matter. There was another race to ride.

    "This wasn't anyone's fault but my own. I just have to live with it. I doubt if I'll live long enough for them to find a cure, but I believe firmly one day there will be one. That's what I tell young adults I meet, who are in a similar position: 'Be patient, it's going to happen, and you're going to make it one day and be up again.'"

    If it's everyone else's nightmare, he's the one sitting in the chair, 70 years old now, but not looking a day over 50. And so what is it like-just sitting there?

    "I try to be as happy as I can," he said. "I just told myself it's something that happened to me, it's happened to other people, and I have to learn to live with it.

    "Let me tell you, there are a lot of people in this world who are worse off than I am. I look at some of these 6- and 7-year-olds who are like me now, and that's what really gets to me."

    The Shoemaker Foundation, established in 1991, has raised millions of dollars, and a significant contribution has been made to the Paralysis Project, committed to finding a cure for those who cannot move.

    "I'd rather help by being up and running around," Shoemaker said, "but it's one of the good things I can still do."

    *

    HE MISSES golf, said Shoemaker, who shot a 73 at Riviera once and played to a seven handicap, but not enough to watch golfers try to impress him with their ugly swings at the Spanish Trail Country Club on Monday.

    However, when the food was served at the banquet after the tournament, he was first in line.

    *

    WHEN HE came into the Orleans Hotel and Casino last weekend, he no sooner had gotten in the door when three women approached him.

    "Three older women," he said. "I no longer get the young ones."

    He said some people are uncomfortable approaching him-many putting a hand out to shake before realizing what they have done.

    "But I'm just another person," he said, and when something is said about the beating his body must have taken all those years while falling off horses, he demonstrates he's just another person with a wicked sense of humor: "Don't forget, I was married three times, and that's hard on a guy too."

    *

    SHOEMAKER GAVE up horse training because of the time it takes to exercise his body, but he still makes it to the track, and when asked what he watches during a race, he said, "The horse I bet on."

    He rode Swaps to a Derby win, considers Spectacular Bid the best horse he rode, and made Patchy Groundfog the 40,352nd-and final-mount of his career. But now it's someone like actor Christopher Reeve who gets his attention.

    Reeve fell off a horse and is a quadriplegic like Shoemaker but insists some time soon he will walk again. Shoemaker has talked with Reeve and not only shares his enthusiasm but believes him.

    "You just can't give up," he said. "It's like riding a race-you ride it all the way to the finish line. You just might win."

    As if there was any doubt he'd blink just once.

  2. #2
    What a great story and what a ridiculous response to ask a person to make! What if the guy blinked once but his eyes teared up and he blinked a second time by mistake? How long do you wait for the second blink? It is hard to blink once and then not blink again for a long time. So, if you ever catch me blinking more than once, be aware that I am intentionally blinking once and all subsequent blinks are unintentional. Wise.

  3. #3
    LOL.. Funny Dr. Young, u just gotta carry a ONE BLINK ONLY card in your wallet .
    That was a great post though and I totally agree with him when he said: "You just can't give up," he said. "It's like riding a race-you ride it all the way to the finish line. You just might win.". That's in my opinion the only way to go on with SCI, riding it all the way.

    Me.

  4. #4
    Senior Member KLD's Avatar
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    Great story

    I have never met Mr. Shoemaker, but have seen him at the Del Mar (CA) race track during racing season. While he was still working as a trainer (until just recently) he had a number of winners at that track (and others I am sure). He did his rehab at Craig.

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