(Diamond Solitarie and her care-giver/co-owner Lori Osborne look at brighter skies ahead / Photo by Gene McLean)
(Gene and Diamond Solitaire get to share a moment on Sunday at Deerfield Farm / Photo by Leigh Ann Thacker)
One of the reasons that I love our 2-year-old filly Diamond Solitaire so very much, I think, is that in many ways, we are truly alike. We share similar stories. We are bound at the heart by our souls and experiences. We are tied together by our individual struggles and our personal triumphs that we shared at about the same time.
At least, that is what I believe to be true. That is what I believe in.
Neither one of us — either me or Diamond — come from a great pedigree on paper. I guess you can say that we were both born on the “wrong side of the racetracks.” But, I will tell you this. Both of us come from great, sturdy and hearty stock, if not rich and famous. And, I wouldn’t trade our upbringings for any of the fancy names.
Neither one of us — either me or Diamond — were ever given much of a chance to amount to anything, either. The detractors many. The skeptics plenty. The believers? Few and far between. But, when it is all said and done, I think both of us will outrun our odds.
And, you see:
Neither one of us — either me or Diamond — really dazzle you with our looks and composition, either. Let’s just say that we are both built to last, and leave it at that.
But, you see:
Both of us — me and Diamond — are truly miracles of life that only God fully understands and can properly explain. Both of us — me and Diamond — are here on God’s Green Earth today only because of mercy and divine intervention. Both of us — me and Diamond — are living examples that death does not conquer all.
My story has been documented in this space before. Won’t bore you with the many details, again. Just a few reminders to hit the refresh button.
It was about four years ago, after a couple of trips to Los Angeles, that I first reported to the Emergency Room of Louisville’s Baptist East Hospital with a sinking feeling and a restless heart.
I walked up to the check-in counter, in front of an audience of impatient patients — who literary clogged the waiting room to the gills. I told the attending nurse that I wasn’t feeling too good, and had passed out just an hour or so ago. Just seconds after the nurse put a little device on my finger to test my oxygen level, I could hear bells and sirens.
My oxygen never tipped past 54.
My butt was slapped on a gurney, and away I went.
After a CAT scan revealed that I had massive blood clots bridging over both of my lungs, Dr. Payne (really and truly; that was his name) strolled into the little ER holding tank and gave me my options.
Succinctly, since time was of some essence, Dr. Payne described I could get a high-intensity drug administered through an IV drip. And, he went on to explain, that if I didn’t bleed out from my eyes, ears and nose within the first 5 minutes after administration, I might have a chance to make it.
I could die.
Not being the brain surgeon in the room, I choose the first offer. And, cavalierly, I remember saying: “Let’s rock and roll.”
For the next 24 hours, my nurse in the Intensive Care Unit paid me a visit every 15 minutes. On the dot. She came to check on my oxygen levels. She came in to check on my heart rate. And, she came to administer a “brain test.”
As fate would have it, my cognitive levels — while never great to begin with — didn’t wilt. And, for some odd reason, I didn’t die.
I still remember my lovely wife, Leigh Ann, asking my cardiologist about the blood clots that remained in my legs and whether or not they posed a danger and could possibly kill me.
I still remember by cardiologist, Dr. Semder, responding with a very simple explanation:
“I don’t mean to be crude,” he started out. “But if those blood clots in his lungs didn’t kill him, I really don’t know what might get this son of a bitch.”
We all laughed, even though it was no laughing matter. And, we all started to figure out how to live once again.
And, we figured it out. For awhile. About two years after my first episode, my hematologist and other doctors thought I could go off my blood-thinning medications. My blood work was good. My oxygen levels were steady. My life had been renewed.
But it was not six months later, after a trip to Washington, D.C., when I found myself struggling to breathe once again. I called Leigh Ann, who had stopped at a nearby cantina for some food and a sarsaparilla. Told her I was going to drive over to the ER and have things checked out. Just to make sure.
Hit the re-run button. Same ER. Same ER room. Same guy to administer the CAT-scan. Same diagnosis. Same projection.
When the ER doctor came in and asked to speak to Leigh Ann alone and privately, I knew we were not in for a joy ride. When LA returned, she leaned over and said that the doctor thinks it is time that I should go ahead and call my kids.
So I did. Called Brad in Columbus. Told him everything was going to be OK, and that I was a tough SOB. One of those was true. Told him to take care of his sister. Called Alex in Nashville. Told her everything was going to be OK, and that I was a tough SOB. By this time, neither of those two things were true. Told her to take care of her brother.
And, we waited. The odds of surviving one of these incidents is very remote. The chances of winning two? About like me hitting the Pick 5 at Oaklawn Park on a Sunday with a single in the last leg (oh yeah, we did that today, too).
Some how. Some way. We won that one, too. Don’t ask me how, although I normally tell everyone that the Good Lord sure as hell didn’t want me, and the Devil sure as hell didn’t want the competition. So, they decided to kick me back. A second time. Sure as hell.
Five days later, bad lungs and all, Leigh Ann and I were in the paddock at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks Day. We were running our filly First Kiss. I was just glad as hell it wasn’t our last kiss.
Been on blood thinners ever since. Been on the green side of the sod, too. Thank the Good Lord.
When asked how did it feel to survive, I simply grin and say, politely as I can muster, this refrain:
“We didn’t survive.
(Diamond Solitaire, now a 2YO filly by Majestic Harbor, is back at Deerfield Farm after spending the last two months at La Croix Training Center. Soon, she will head off to trainer Stephen Lyster at the Thoroughbred Center in Lexington. She sure has grown up and now has a group of owners that love her as much as I do.)
But, you see, that is where this story of man and horse comes full circle — just like a two turn horse race.
Where the last few years of my life is a miracle — or two — the beginning of Diamond Solitaire’s is just the same. It started out as a miracle. Or two.
Just a few days after her birth two summers ago, Diamond Solitaire found herself pinned in a stall with her thrashing mother, Diamond Seeker. The mom was under full attack from a bout of severe colic. The pain had rendered her useless.
By the time her caregivers, David and Lori Osborne, could load the pair up and get them to the nearby horse clinic, Mom was near death and could not be saved. The baby — the tiny, little baby — was left to her own devices. All alone. No comforting mother to nature and nurture. And, no milk to be given.
A day later, it was discovered that the baby horse had sustained a fractured leg in the melee. The injury had to be set. The leg had to have a splint. And, she had to stay in a stall for the next six weeks, at the very least. All alone. No comforting mother to nature and nurture. And, no relief in sight.
Until, by another act of God, we took to Twitter — no kidding and no less — and sent out an urgent request for somebody, anybody to help us find and locate a nurse mare.
We found Bill Roseberry.
And, we found his mare Geri.
They were both sent on the wings of angels. Within 24 hours, Geri was on location and in the stall with our little baby. Within minutes, Geri had offered up her heart, soul and body. Most of all, Geri graciously offered up her mother’s milk. Full of antibodies and protectors. Full of warmth and nourishment.
Within seconds, a match not made by nature became a match made in heaven.
For the next two months, the two of them were not able to leave the stall. The baby had a broken leg and a healing heart. The mom had all the time in the world to wait. And, they waited. Lovingly and together.
They healed. They bonded. They meshed.
For the next eight months, the two of them grew and matured and lived. In the late Fall, when it came time, Geri went home to find another baby to raise. At the same time, Diamond Solitaire — a single setting born to her mother Diamond Seeker — went on.
And they both, in a way, were just exactly like me.
Given another chance, they did more than survive.
Given another opportunity, they won the race of a lifetime. They won a race to live.
(Gene got a chance to visit with Diamond at Deerfield on Sunday / Photo by Leigh Ann Thacker)
Today, we all find ourselves in a world filled with more questions than answers.
We find ourselves in an “Emergency Room,” so to speak. We don’t know if this killer virus will find us, hiding in our beds with the covers pulled over our heads, or not. We wonder.
We find ourselves in a equine clinic without comfort and kindness to nuzzle up to and hold onto. We wonder.
But I can tell you this from personal experience.
We have to quit wondering. We have to stop trying to just survive. And, we have to fight to win.
Fight the odds. Fight back. Fight on. Just fight like hell.
That’s what I did. Some how. Some way. With God’s caring and lifting hands.
That’s what our beautiful filly Diamond Solitaire did, too. With Geri’s loving heart and God’s loving spirit.
And, that is what we all have to do right now. Too.
Without a doubt, Gov. Andy Beshear has done a great job of navigating our Commonwealth through the most perils of any Executive in our state’s history. He has been calm. He has been committed. And, he has been in control.
He has instituted changes that may have saved thousands of lives of people that we know and love.
He has used common sense to “slow the curve,” and allow our medical professionals to care and heal.
He has used strategy to limit exposure, and, hopefully, contain the spread of this awful, deadly and disgusting disease.
He has earned praise. He deserves plaudits. Here. Here.
But soon — as in very soon — our people have to move on.
Our lives have to move on.
Our horses have to run again.
We all just have to live again.
And, we cannot win this race of a lifetime with a simple mentality of trying to survive.
I don’t want to die trying.
I want to live winning.
We have to play this to win. Together.
The Governor has to trust that we — the vast majority of “we” — have learned how to social distance, and play again without unnecessary touching and risking. He has to know by now that the responsible ones among us understand the importance of washing our hands; using hand sanitizer; and wearing a face mask if need be.
At the same time…
We have to trust the medical professionals that say that we must limit of exposure and assist our immune systems with common sense.
Yet, we have to live again.
A great friend of mine, who I studied and learned from for so many years, once told me that a great leader cannot lead unless the people are willing to follow. In fact, he put it like this:
“There goes my people and I am their leader. I have to go.”
Up till now, the vast majority of our people have followed. That has allowed our Governor to lead.
Soon, though, the vast majority of our people are going to go; they are going back to living; they are going to do their best to win — either with or without the Governor’s permission.
If this Governor is going to lead he has to understand the principal:
“There goes my people and I am their leader.”
And, he has to go.
Here’s hoping that the Governor goes.
Here’s hoping that the staunch and strict travel restrictions are lifted soon and both horse and man can return home to Kentucky. Home to Louisville. Home to Churchill Downs.
Here’s hoping that the prohibition on the opening of the backside at Churchill Downs is soon amended, and our industry can catch a glimpse of light at the end of this awful, dark tunnel and we can see racing resume in early May. Even if spectators are not allowed on the premises for an extended period of time, our people and our horses have to move forward.
Here’s hoping that we understand that surviving this world-wide pandemic is not enough. Here’s hoping that we have to learn how to win. Again.
Because when times are the most bleak; when our backs are literally pinned against the wall of life; when even the most optimistic projections are either slim or none?
We have to find a way to win.
And, maybe — just maybe — that is why I love Diamond Solitaire so very, very much. Maybe that is why I understand her struggles just a little better. Maybe that is why she looks at me with a bit of admiration, too. Call me crazy if you will or must. But I believe in those connections and hidden meanings buried in our lives. I truly do. And, maybe, just maybe, we — me and Diamond — understand and trust each other because we are both are living examples that the death bell does not always have to ring.
Maybe, just maybe, we — me and Diamond — got each other at the same time to teach us both how to overcome, too; how to win. Call me crazy if you will or must. But I believe. I truly do.
Now, when it comes down to it, this life vs. death struggle is fully up to us.
We can either fight on or give up.
And, I’m all in favor of fighting.
I vote for fighting.
And, I’m for winning.
I’m convinced Diamond Solitaire is the same way. I saw it in her eyes as a baby. I saw it again today. The eye never lies.
I hope you are, too.
Because life awaits. And, I’m dying to live again.