By Tony Bada Bing
Luck, both bad and good, presents itself in a myriad of ways
in life and at the track. Nose defeats and big scores are easy enough to
witness, trackside. Life’s up and downs rarely play out in such neat, little
spectacles as horse races, unless, of course, they’re tragic or triumphant.
What follows is a tragedy and triumph sprinkled with a healthy dose luck. And
it all played out on opening weekend at Saratoga two years ago.
If you’ve never been, Saratoga is a bucolic town of less
than 30,000 where history met myth and a horse track was built to accommodate
both. There are tree-lined streets filled with arts and crafts homes, an
outdoor amphitheater where symphonies, ballets and rock concerts are hosted and
a horse track that attracts the best equine athletes and those that like to
take a gamble, follow. Revolutionary war hero turned trader, Benedict Arnold,
was stationed in the area and hucksters and healers sold foul smelling spring
water as natural health aid.
My attraction to this place began early for me (please see
video below), but it wasn’t until 1993 when I started making my annual trip to the
August Place to Be. For 20 straight years I’ve made the drive, mostly with my
Uncle Pete and then after he passed away, my wife, her cousin (Uncle Pete’s
daughter) and our cousin’s husband. In Pete’s honor we started making the trip
on opening weekend and it was on opening Saturday, 2010 that this story takes
In addition to Kara, my wife, Mary, her cousin, and Bob,
Mary’s husband, were all on hand that opening weekend. We made it to the track
late on that wet Friday and caught a few races before giving into the rain,
leaving before the last race. Following early dinner plans, we hit the hay
early as Mary and Kara prepared to run their third straight Silks and Satin
Kara’s older brother and his family made the drive down from
Rochester, NY to join us. Kara’s niece, a high school cross-country runner
joined her and Mary for the annual 5K race through Saratoga, which benefits the
Special Olympics. The day as usual was hot and humid; the race goers psyched
and ready to roll. Kara’s older brother jumped into the race at the last minute
to support his daughter and challenge his younger sister.
Now fast-forward 45 minutes or so later – a sister, a cousin
and a daughter waiting anxiously for the last member of the family to cross the
finish. Imagine that Kara’s older brother, a strapping man in good health,
never crossing that line. Imagine his 17-year-old daughter walking back from
the finishing line looking for her father and only finding his ripped shirt.
Imagine all the panic and horror that comes with knowing something horrible is
unfolding in front of your eyes.
Now, I am not going to go into all the details of this true,
horrific story – that’s private and my brother-in-law is a private man and
ultimately this is his and his family’s story. Thus, I write without some
names. The story ended happily, but it was an anxious-filled 72 hours that
involved a new, inventive treatment, as well as good-old-fashion care,
compassion and medicine all while an extended family tried to keep thoughts
that it would not end so well out of its heads.
Now, imagine the luck involved in a man crashing into the
ground just a few minutes from the finish line. In that moment he crashes, a
woman sitting on her front porch sees the man collapse in front of her home. A
wife and a mom that just happens to be a registered nurse, who is CPR trained
and just happens to continue watching the road race despite the numbers of
runners going by her home dwindling down to just a few stragglers. Imagine that
she is first on the scene and immediately attends to the man, calls for help
and more than likely saves the man’s life.
Now, I’d like to try to put this into perspective for you
and me. There are about 25,000 people living in Saratoga. There is a little
hospital in town and then a larger one just south of town in Albany that just
happens to have an excellent cardiac care center. In a town this size with a
couple of hospitals in the area, I’ll estimate that maybe 10,000 practicing
nurses live in the greater Albany area and of those maybe 100 or so live in
Saratoga. Maybe half were on duty or waiting to be on duty that day, some may
have been sleeping following an overnight shift or some were just away.
Now let me ask, because I don’t know, what are the odds that
just one of these nurses that isn’t on duty watched the race go by, waited for
all to pass her house and stuck around to see my brother-in-law’s heart stop,
his body collide with the ground and then run out to save him? At the very
least, I answer that the odds are high that such an event, happens in just such
a way to save a man’s life.
Finally, as Saratoga Race Track opens its doors again today
and invites the public to find a winner, I ask you to consider your luck –
blind and otherwise. Take stock of what you have, whom you love and who loves
you back. It all can change in the blink of an eye and where you stand, sit,
run or watch can make all the difference in deciding if you continue on to see
tomorrow or not. I think of this each year Saratoga races again…