Former jockey deals with paralysis

October 17, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION


Shannon Campbell always lived an active lifestyle.

If the 34-year-old jockey wasn't racing horses, it was often a workout at the gym or something similar that occupied her time.

Sitting around watching a movie rarely interested Campbell, because she didn't have the patience for it.

"I was always moving. That's what's so difficult. I can't be as active as I want to be. It's been pretty devastating," Campbell said.

Campbell was thrown to the ground at Charles Town Races & Slots when her horse went down during a July 9 race at the Jefferson County, W.Va., oval.


She suffered a broken back and was taken to Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Ranson, W.Va., and later flown to Washington (D.C.) Hospital Center.

Campbell said she hyperextended her spinal cord, leaving her unable to walk.

On the evening of the spill, Campbell was going to go to dinner with a good friend, but she decided to ride because she thought she had a chance to do well.

When the race started, Campbell knew immediately that her horse was lacking speed, she said. She lagged toward the back of the pack and rode alongside jockey Anthony Mawing when she noticed another jockey, Alex Estrada, coming up on her right side.

Campbell said the rear of Estrada's horse struck the front of her horse, causing Campbell's horse to flip.

"The last thing I remember was the sensation of falling. Then I don't remember anything until I was in the hospital at Jefferson," Campbell said.

Doctors have told Campbell she will not be able to walk again, and she and her husband, Lance, have started to deal with the challenges they now face,

Campbell uses a wheelchair, and the Richmond, Va., couple had to purchase a single-story house that is more conducive to Campbell's needs. With only one income and Campbell's medical bills rolling in, Campbell and her husband are dealing with tight finances as she continues to receive physical therapy.

"It's been hard to take because I've been very active. It's hard for me to have the same amount of determination and drive that I used to have," Campbell said in a telephone interview from her home.

The racing community has come forward with an outpouring of support for Campbell with about $100,000 raised to help with medical expenses.

The fundraising started Sept. 13 at Charles Town Races & Slots. On that day, the track's announcer encouraged fans to come to a table at the track and make donations for Campbell. Jockeys sold items like their goggles and whips to raise money for Campbell and money poured in from other tracks, said track chaplain Rick Mann, who worked on the fundraising campaign.

Charles Town Races & Slots and its parent organization, Penn National Gaming Inc., donated $20,000 and the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association donated $10,000. Money also came in from tracks like Philadelphia Park, Colonial Downs and Mountaineer Race Track and Gaming Resort in Chester, W.Va., Mann said.

"It's kind of neat how everyone worked together," Mann said.

Besides Charles Town, Campbell said she raced at tracks throughout the East, including Colonial Downs, Delaware Park Horse Racing and Slots, Laurel Park and Penn National Race Course. Campbell said she does not know her record, but said she often placed first, second or third at Charles Town.

"I was a decent rider," Campbell said.

Campbell said she always has been around horses and enjoyed caring for them and riding them when she was young. Campbell eventually landed a job with a leading horse trainer in Maryland, where she learned about breaking horses and other aspects of horse racing.

As Campbell looks ahead, she wants to remain active in riding.

Despite her injury, Campbell said she wants to try barrel racing, which involves riding horses around barrels in an arena.

There are special saddles for paraplegic, but they force riders to be in a rigid posture, Campbell said. Campbell said she wants to develop a saddle that is more flexible for paraplegic.

It is unclear how many accidents like Campbell's have occurred at Charles Town. Brande Larrimore, executive director of the Charles Town Division/Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, said even if she knew how many accidents there have been at the track, she would not pass judgment on whether the rate was high or low.

To keep accidents to a minimum, there has been an effort at the track to keep up proper maintenance on the oval and ensure horses are healthy and prepared to race, Larrimore said.

"Nobody wants to see any (accidents)," Larrimore said.

"We're always concerned. It's a dangerous sport," said Wayne Harrison, president of the Charles Town HBPA.

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