The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on May 31, 1998 · Page 54
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 54

Salina, Kansas
Issue Date:
Sunday, May 31, 1998
Page 54
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SPORTS Riding Indian Charlie (above, right) Stevens came in third in the Kentucky Derby earlier this month. TRACK STAR At 35, after countless wins (and injuries), top jockey Gary Stevens says he has nothing left to prove. So why is he still training seven days a week? E VERY TIME Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens races, he knows there's a chance it could be his last time around the track. "My riding career may last two days or 10 years. I don't know," says Stevens, who won both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness last year and at press time was set to ride in the Belmont Stakes June 6. "Horse racing is very dangerous. I've broken just about every bone in my body." During his career, Stevens, 35, has suffered a torn rotator cuff, a broken ankle, severe knee problems resulting in three surgeries, a serious head injury and a shattered right wrist, now held in place by six screws. He's also had to beat Legg-Perthes disease, a degenerative hip disorder. At age 6, Stevens had to wear a leg brace for 18 months to allow his bones to regenerate. The disease left few visible effects (his right foot is a size smaller and his right leg is an inch and a half shorter). But it had a more lasting imprint on his personality, instilling in him a fierce will to win. "I was teased, and that made me tough. I remember playing ball with the rest of the kids and learning to ride a bike with one leg. It made me able to cope with things later in life." At 8, he began grooming horses for dad Ron, an Idaho horse trainer. Mom Barbara was a champion barrel racer. YOUNGEST TO HIT $100 MILLION Stevens burst onto the national scene in 1985, finishing second in wins at Santa Anita in California, and hasn't looked back since. He led the nation in earnings in 1990 with S13.8 million, and three years later became the youngest jockey to pass $100 million in career earnings. He's won the Kentucky Derby three times and was inducted into horse racing's Hall of Fame last year. Stevens has stayed in the winner's circle by being an intensely competitive perfectionist with an uncanny nose for the finish line. In racing season, he often works seven days a week, exercising horses in the morning and racing in the afternoon. Stevens' passion for racing nearly consumed him. At 28, he talked of retirement, burned out by years of hectic schedules. His marriage, which had produced four children, was breaking up. Even winning didn't give a jolt. "I'd win a big million-dollar race and wouldn't even enjoy it. I'd be on a plane flying somewhere to ride eight or nine races the next day." In 1995, he fled to Hong Kong to soul-search. He cut the number of races he entered, giving him time to refocus. When he returned to America, he A childhood disease forced Stevens to "ride a bike with one leg." felt rejuvenated. His personal life turned around, too. In June, he'll marry Nicola, an Englishwoman who herself has been around horses all her life. When not racing or traveling, Stevens spends time with his kids, who live with their mother. Daughter Ashley, 15, rides hunter-jumper horses; son Tory, 13, recently has become interested in racing. Several inches taller than their 5-foot-3,115- pound dad, both are already too big to be jockeys. Stevens has signed with an agency (William Morris) for product endorsements, the first jockey to do so. He also has become a respected jockey spokesman as Jockeys' Guild president. He is working to get a pension plan started, along with better disability benefits. Stevens has come a long way for a guy who in his younger days was known to jump into the stands and mix it up with hecklers. "I've mellowed a lot," he says. "I don't have anything to prove. If my career ended tomorrow, I'd be satisfied with the way things turned out." But even as he talks about wrapping up his career, Stevens still pulls 18-hour days to stay ahead of the pack. His winning days aren't over yet — not by a long shot, ra Tom McNichol last wrote about the generation gap in pro sports. 14 USA WEEKEND • May 28-31,1998

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