Gary Stevens: Unbreakable

November 26, 2018

Gold medals aren’t really made of gold. They’re made of sweat, determination and a hard-to-find alloy called Guts!” (Dan Gable).

Hall of Fame race rider Gary Stevens had the guts. But that’s not all he had, he also had unbreakable will. The body can only last so long but if you have the guts you can go on forever. On November 20th 2018 Jockey Gary Stevens declared that he was retiring from racing due to some complications with his C4 and his spine. This was a decision that was based upon the quality of how he was going to live the rest of his life and the potential of one fall doing more severe damage and potentially never walking again.

Shy of winning the Triple Crown I doubt any of us could say that Stevens did not accomplish everything there was to in racing. Gary was the 4th youngest jockey ever voted into the Racing Hall of Fame, a major accomplishment by itself. What impresses me about Gary Stevens is his lifetime career ITM% finishes stands at 48% out of over 29,000 mounts. Wrap your head around that for a moment. We have seen countless athletes who are considered to be icons of their sport come back from retirement as with Michael Jordan, Peyton Manning, George Foreman, Mario Lemieux, Pele and the Great Secretariat.

Some of these icons overcame aging bodies, near death experiences, cancer, heartbreak, sever injury and in Gary’s case it was a mixture of a few of those. Comebacks in sports are well meant and do not always live up to the hype no matter how large the icon is. Then there are those that exceed expectations like Gary Stevens. He exceeded expectations and outshined jockeys half his age, not only that in his last comeback he cemented his legacy in the sport of kings even further.

We only get to see the top 15-20% reach this level in this great sport of ours. Being in the top percentile of that group makes you even more special. This wasn’t a glory lap from a guy that just couldn’t stop holding on to something that was no longer there, this was a man that had more to do. Gary’s comeback included notably a Preakness win and 3 Breeders’ Cups, one of which was the Classic with Mucho Macho Man.

Gary Stevens showed throughout his career that even though the body is breakable the spirit and the will is not, the formula to being successful is to have unbreakable will. Gary Stevens’ riding career emulated this will. Not bad for a man that came from a small town in Caldwell, Idaho who overcame degenerative hip disease as a child, a horrific spill at the Arlington Million that almost killed him and countless surgeries and body part replacements.

We thank you for your unbreakable will and all that you have given the sport of kings, you’re an example of what it’s all about, a mentor and an ambassador of the sport. Gary Stevens is an Icon who was unbreakable in the world’s toughest sport, the Sport of Kings.          

“For a different and unique perspective on horse racing, I read Jonathan Stettin’s Past the Wire.” Mike Smith, Hall of Fame, Triple Crown winning jockey

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