Thursday, 5 November 2015

The inevitable blog post about Stevie Payne

I tried to stop myself. I tried, really I did.

I tried not to say anything about Michelle and Stevie Payne, but I just can't help it!

On Tuesday Jacinta's future got a little bit better.

I was out at my church, doing some study. Being Melbourne Cup Day (because nowadays in Melbourne most of our Public Holidays are for sports...) there was some (soft) bubbly and some chicken and salad and many a fascinator, and the cup was on the screen in the auditorium.

I didn't think much of it. I had a couple of horses in the sweep (a far cry from days gone by, when I'd study every race and put money on the horse with the best name in each - just on that one day) so I watched it, and it was about the closest race I've ever seen. So exciting, it seemed like it was anyone's until the last 20 metres.

And then when the race was won, I heard the commentators talking about someone being the first female - I was pretty sure they didn't mean the horse. It became clear fairly quickly that this was the first female jockey to win the race, which dates back to the 1860s. Her name is Michelle Payne, and her racing pedigree is pretty long.  She is one of 10 racing children of racing parents and the family has been in racing a long time.

So I was very happy to see that a woman had broken the glass ceiling of racing, a sport which is not loved by all, certainly not loved at all by some, but which has been quite soundly defended by a friend of mine who has worked around horses for many years, not in racing, so I'm not accepting comments either way on the rightness or wrongness of racing itself. I think I had a small tear of joy for her, and for my daughters.

Then as I watched, I saw that the person leading the horse around post-race clearly had Trisomy 21. I wasn't able to keep watching since I had children, namely one just-walking, lightning-quick 2 year-old to chase. Still, it became clear that this was the horse's strapper (basically a horse's PA for racing purposes), and for those of us who remember the movie Phar Lap (and have shuddered slightly on walking past his taxidermied body in the museum), we know that Tommy Woodcock was the no.1 person in that horse's life.

The strapper is so important a person in a racing victory that there is a trophy awarded, named for Tommy Woodcock, after each Melbourne Cup. This year, the winner of that trophy, was Stevie Payne, a 32 year-old man who has been working in the Ballarat stables for the last 10 years, and doing a darn good job by all accounts. He happens to be Michelle's brother.

I'm not sure at all how many of the people watching noticed him, or the diagnosis shining out through his facial features. I know that no-one was really watching the speeches at all, so no-one in that auditorium except Jacinta and me heard what he said in accepting his award. As I watched him, and after he had spoken, I was so overwhelmed by how life had changed in that 3-minute race.

If you were going for a Trisomy 21 Respect and Understanding awareness stunt, you couldn't have done it better. The whole country (with a few exceptions) watches that race. It is known as 'the race which stops a nation'. The whole country saw his horse win. Those of us in the country who watch the speeches saw a guy with Trisomy 21 get up and accept the trophy named after that legend, in exactly the same way the other guys accept it, for doing exactly the same job the other guys before him have done. No different.

His sister got up, was very gracious, thanked the right people and told the wrong people to 'get stuffed' (because it's not an easy ride when people are lobbying to get you replaced with a male rider and won't let you do your blinkin' job) and he got up, thanked the guys in the stables and everyone who came out to the race, hoped everyone has a great night and thanks very much.

In that moment, no-one could deny that here was a guy who had shown up, done his job, and walked away with one of the top awards for anyone in his mainstream profession. (This is one of the richest horse races in the world.)

And why did this make life a little better for Jacinta?

Because in 2017 she might start preschool. In 2019 she will probably start school. The big-kids-to-be at her school were probably watching that race, and kids like them saw a guy like Jacinta get one of the trophies. One day when she starts school and the other kids see her, if they know of no-one else with T21, they'll associate her with winning. If someone tries to negate her abilities or think less of her, the ones who've seen the Cup will have this memory in the back of their minds, telling them that what they say is not true. Couple that with the girl winning a boy's sport, and this one little race did an awful lot for my young lady with T21's future.

So for that, I say "Thankyou, Michelle and Stevie Payne, for showing up to work on Tuesday and doing your job. This Mumma will be forever grateful."

We're getting there, one step at a time. (And I've finally stopped bursting into tears at the thought!)

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