(Corey Lanerie along with his wife Shantel and daughter at this year’s KY Oaks / Photo Courtesy of Churchill Downs)
I still remember the first time I got the opportunity to meet and talk with Shantel Lanerie. Like it was yesterday. She always had a way of burning her smile into your memory bank, leaving a tattoo on the heart and mind.
I was leaving a breakfast meeting at the Wild Eggs restaurant over on the East end of Louisville, and across from the beautiful Lake Forrest community. There, sitting at the counter, was both Corey Lanerie, one of the best riders in the history of Kentucky racing, and his bride, Shantel.
I hesitated a minute. Didn’t want to interrupt their meal, or time together. Seemed like a rude thing to do, at the time. So, as I was saying my goodbyes to my morning guest, I saluted the dynamic Lanerie duo with a gentleman’s wave and a smile, and headed towards the door.
But that was not nearly good enough of a salutation or a benediction for one Shantel Lanerie. Not by a long shot, to use a racing term. After Corey grinned and waved back, his lovely bride popped up from her saddle, er seat, and immediately extended her hand and her friendship. Both came equipped with a million dollar smile, and warm greetings.
“I’m Shantel, and I like the things you have been writing,” she said, as her words dripped with more honesty and sincerity than her pancakes did with maple syrup. “We need more positive things written about our industry, don’t we?”
Surprised a bit, I smiled back and thanked her for her kindness. I didn’t even know that Shantel or Corey even knew who I was or what I was doing, with the startup of “The Pressbox.” But, as I soon found out, Shantel was not only personable and engaging, she was equally as perceptive and enlightening. And, before I even knew it, a conversation had broken out right there in the middle of the morning and the restaurant that resembled something that you would encounter at a family reunion.
We talked about trainers, and owners, and some of our favorite horses. We chatted about Louisville, and Churchill Downs, and adopted “homes away from homes.” We talked about helping young people get started in this old-school business, and we talked about how we should all devote more time to helping others.
All the while, Corey laughed; ate a few bites; and tolerated the breakfast interruption with both class and patience. My take was that it wasn’t the first time that his friend, companion, wife, and soul mate had easily urged a talk session to the forefront just as smoothly and confidently has he has ridden many horses to the lead in the late stretch.
By the time we did finally say goodbye that day, we could have been mistaken for life-long acquaintances, and the best of friends. That was just the way Shantel invited people into her world.
Every now and again, I would run into both Corey and Shantel at Wild Eggs. It wasn’t a normal hangout for me, but I think it probably was for them. Every time, the two of them would take time to greet, meet, chat and exchange pleasantries that were just as sweet, refreshing, and good as the pastries served.
When I heard the news of Shantel’s illness this Spring, I was both shocked and amazed. Never knew such an ugly, disgusting disease could be growing inside someone so vibrant and beautiful, both inside and out. But when I saw her at this year’s Kentucky Derby, Shantel was both upbeat and positive. Smiling, per usual. Strong with the handshake. Committed to victory. And, I allowed my heart and soul to believe that she could and would be OK. No need to worry, I thought. She’s got this.
Damn to hell. Damn to cancer.
That disease has just stolen one of the world’s best people right out from underneath us. That awful, dreadful disease has just dumped us all — a heart spill, sending us all tumbling to the ground in disbelief, and disgust. That debilitating disease, which sneaks into the body in the middle of the night like a cat thief cloaked in darkness, has just robbed her daughter of her mom; her husband of his caring, loving wife; her family of her enduring love; and the world of a beautiful, giving soul.
Now, here we stand on the green side of the turf today, wondering why and fighting mad about how life sometimes takes more than it gives. We ask questions that seemingly have no right answers, and we are saddened that we will never again see that bright face or hear those encouraging words in that little breakfast diner. We are depressed that disease has once again beaten our best medicine.
But while we can get mad; while we can remember; and while we can both smile and cry at the same time, we should never quit fighting to find the cure. A cure. Any cure. To quit would be an injustice to those that fought so hard. To quit would be forgetting.
And, let’s be honest now, if you ever met Shantel Lanerie do you think you could forget her? Seriously? She wouldn’t let you. Not then. And, especially, not now.
So, let’s all find a way to fight on. Find that resolve to live on. And, discover that cure. We should wear the pink in our hearts and souls every single day. We should wear it on our sleeves, and in our hearts. We should wear it in and wear it out. The disease won’t quit. We have to beat it.
For people like Shantel Lanerie. We have to beat it.