Paralyzed Jockey Wants To Ride
Jan. 14, 1999
MIAMI (AP) _ Click-click.
When a jockey hears that sound in tight quarters, it's a disturbing sign of impending trouble.
``You never want to hear `click-click' when you're behind a horse,'' Linda Hughes said.
It's the sound of 1,000-pound animals clipping hooves. And it's a sound Hughes will carry with her as she adjusts to life in a wheelchair, the result of a severe spill six weeks ago that left her paralyzed from the waist down.
``You always know in the back of your mind that something like this could happen, but I never thought it could happen to me,'' Hughes said Wednesday. ``I never even had broken a bone before.''
Six weeks after being airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital with no feeling in her legs, Hughes made her first public appearance looking anything but discouraged by the path that lays in front of her.
In fact, she even dreams of getting back on a horse in the near future.
``Even if I never walk again, I'll ride again. That's for sure,'' she said.
``She's always been like that,'' said Lou Ann Feinberg, Hughes' twin sister. ``That's Linda. That's the attitude she's always had. It's amazing she's not lost it.''
Hughes damaged her spinal cord Dec. 1 when she was thrown from her mount, Exuberant Lady, who was making her second career start.
Sandwiched between Tricky Majestic and eventual winner Sultry Boldness on the outside, Exuberant Lady clipped heels with the hind hooves of Sultry Boldness and stumbled. Hughes was catapulted over Exuberant Lady's head.
She hit the dirt face-first before her legs pitched over the top. She remembers nothing of the impact.
``The next thing I remember was in the ambulance and the outrider said, `Helicopter to Jackson,''' she said. ``I thought, `Oh, no, I'm in trouble.'''
Hughes was diagnosed with a severely bruised spinal cord, along with a punctured lung, bruised ribs and injured spleen. Three days later, doctors performed surgery to fuse parts of her spine.
She must wear a back brace until March, but has adjusted well to the wheelchair and new skills that come with it. On Wednesday, therapists tested her ability to maneuver around her home and gave her high marks.
``She can do everything herself,'' therapist Maria Gomez said. ``She can dress herself, she can get in and out of bed. She's doing excellent.''
Next week, Hughes may even get to go home. Though she still will return for outpatient therapy, the Miami Beach apartment she shares with her sister is ready for use after modifications.
``I have a big question mark over my head _ what to do with the rest of my life,'' said the native of Rupert, Idaho, who moved to Florida after a successful run at Detroit Race Course.
Hughes returned to the track on New Year's Day, welcomed back in a ceremony at Gulfstream Park. Surrounded by fellow jockeys, fans crowded four-deep in the winner's circle to wish her well.
``Sometimes in life bad things happen, but you can't let it get you down,'' she said. ``This wheelchair isn't going to beat me.''
It's that kind of spunk that leaves others amazed. Dr. Kresimir Banovac, medical director of Jackson's rehabilitation center, even backed off his original prognosis that Hughes would remain a paraplegic.
Asked Wednesday if he thought she would walk again, Banovac said, ``Yes, I do.''