Gomez tells story of abuse and addiction
DUARTE, Calif. -- It has been 15 days since doctors removed stitches from the L-shaped gash in his left foot, more than five weeks since they made that incision to insert the plate and 10 screws holding his broken heel together, and over one month since a horse named Silver Summation flipped backward on a walkway from the paddock, causing the injury before the running of the Jan. 8 Daytona Stakes at Santa Anita Park.On Feb. 12, Garrett Gomez returned to the racetrack, swinging along on crutches but determined to show his face and indicate he'll be back in the saddle soon. Three times a week in therapy plus exercise at home -- swimming and riding about eight miles per day on a stationary bicycle -- and his heel is coming around. He started putting pressure on it over the weekend, and he's been able to take a few steps without crutches. Today, doctors will scan the area and recommend a date for a return to riding. Gomez hopes it will be early to mid-March, well in time to secure a Kentucky Derby contender.
“"Among professional athletes," writes Marcus Hersh of the Daily Racing Form, "jockeys may be especially susceptible to addiction." Retired Hall of Famers like Bailey and Pat Day speak openly about their former struggles with alcoholism. Current riders try to keep their issues private, but news spreads like wildfire at the racetrack. It often isn't long before abuse begins to interfere with their careers as well. "Most of us start riding races at a very young age and if you're good, you're kind of set on a pedestal," Gomez said. "You get treated differently. You meet these big people who can get you out of trouble if you mess up a little -- they're trying to be helpful, but all the sudden you think you're untouchable, like, 'Ah ha, I can get out of anything.' But let me tell you something -- reality sets in when you're looking at going to prison for narcotics possession and those guys aren't there to help you out anymore." A long list of jockeys whose talents may be linked to the greatest horses and victories the sport has ever seen may also be linked to news items and articles chronicling substance abuse issues. Writer Pat Forde once called Patrick Valenzuela "the Steve Howe of horse racing." Kent Desormeaux failed a Breathalyzer test at Woodbine and underwent counseling for alcohol abuse. Others escaped detection to fight quieter battles, while Michael Baze and Chris Antley illustrated the harshest realities of this struggle; Baze, 24, passed away last May due to an accidental overdose of cocaine and prescription painkiller oxymorphone, while Antley died in 2000 from a multiple drug overdose at the age of 34. "I remember being younger; it's hard to reach out to somebody a little older for advice, especially when you're competing against them," Gomez said. "But maybe this book will reach out to some of the younger guys and keep them from going through what I went through, if they're willing to read it." Gomez, 40, said he hopes young riders recognize his willingness to connect them to help through counseling programs like the Winner's Foundation, a California non-profit that was his lifeline through recovery (he is donating his portion of the proceeds from the book to that cause). Now, with this story, he wants to reach beyond the jockeys' room and into the world. "My aunt called before she talked to Rudy and asked, 'What do you want me to tell him?'" Gomez said. "I told her, 'The truth.' She said, 'Everything?!' I said, 'Everything.' That's why I'm doing this, to let anyone struggling out there know that people have problems, they mess up, and it's awesome that they get a second chance. I'm trying to make the best out of my second chance, and if this helps one person, it was worth my time." Claire Novak is an Eclipse Award-winning journalist whose coverage of the thoroughbred industry appears in a variety of outlets. You can reach her via her website.
Maybe this book will reach out to some of the younger guys and keep them from going through what I went through, if they're willing to read it.” -- Jockey Garrett Gomez
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