I sat in my mother's Tahoe. My head was in my hands, which were wet from the tears that rolled down my face. This had been my first year competing in our show circuit without Pixie, the Morgan mare, that over the course of five years had not only taken me to the championships of our circuit, but had become my best friend. This year I had a new palomino Quarter Horse, called Tank. I had yet to meet a horse that I could not communicate with, could not get through to, or connect with. However, on this otherwise gorgeous May afternoon, after working so hard to get through the mental block Tank had put up, I was yet again knocked back, and this time I wouldn't get back up.
The show had gone horribly and I sat broken and beaten, not knowing how I could feel any more hurt when my mother opened the door to the truck. I cannot recall all of what she would go on to say, but the words I remember most fell on me like a ton of bricks, "Honey, I'm sorry, but Uncle Don died today." The words were like a vicious kick in the side while I was already down. After a long fight with cancer the battle finally was over, and in the end it took my uncle. He was young, not even thirty. He was fun, he was loving, and kind-hearted, and though I didn't get to see him often I always looked forward to when he would come to visit. It seemed unreal that I would never get to see him again.
Not even a week later we flew down for his funeral, in Florida. There we stayed with my Uncle Jeff and Aunt Judy. I remember the viewing, I remember looking into the open casket, trying not to cry as I looked upon the still form of the man who could not possibly be my Uncle. This man looked old, tired and frail, the complete opposite of the man my uncle had been, and yet the sobering, and cold reality of it was that it was him.
I did not go to the actual funeral the day after the viewing, I couldn't be there and hold my composure enough to watch them put him to rest, so I stayed with my Aunt and Uncle. It wasn't until later, after my parents returned that I had realized that today was Saturday, the third Saturday in May, the day of the Preakness Stakes, where the plucky Afleet Alex would attempt to redeem his Derby loss by trying to take down the Derby victor, Giacomo, himself.
It was the first time in my life that I remember that I wasn't total straining at the bit to watch a horse race, but by the end of it, not only was I amazed, my broken spirit had been inspired. Coming around the far turn I watch, captured by the beauty of Afleet Alex as he unleashed such a tremendous burst of speed that he easily picked off his foes one by one. Heading into the stretch there was only one horse left to go, Scrappy T. Afleet Alex had been taken to the outside, and looked like he would go on to an easy, convincing win.
In a flash the scene changed from certain victory to certain disaster. I watched the screen horrified as I saw Scrappy T bear out sharply, veering right into Afleet Alex. As Scrappy T crossed in front of Afleet Alex the next thing the country saw was Afleet Alex plummeting to the ground, his nose coming only inches away from the Pimlico dirt. Then in a display of will and courage that no horse this decade has equaled, America watched as the gutsy little colt, somehow, gathered his legs underneath of himself. Then with a decisive thrust he was not only back up and running but once again surging towards the lead.
Afleet Alex, as many of you will remember, went on to win the Preakness by an unprecedented four and a half lengths. Unprecedented, because it is almost impossible for any horse to not only remain upright after such an incident, but even less probable that they would win by more than four lengths. I will never forget that race. It was not even a week ago that I had fallen so deep that I felt I could never rise again. Afleet Alex showed me that even when everything is against you, even when everything you love and hold dear has been yanked right out from under your feet, you can still get up. He showed me that you are not beaten until you choose to be beaten. That is why the 2005 Preakness is my most memorable race of the decade.