Editor's Note: This year’s Marie Hill Youth Writing Contest yielded some great results! We received outstanding submissions from all over North America, but none better than that of 12-year-old Sydney Weaver of Acton, Ont., whose story My Wonderful Life received the highest score in the contest.
As a result of being selected as the grand prize winner, the first half of Sydney’s story was published in the December issue of Youth Beats magazine, and we are also proud to present My Wonderful Life here, in its entirety. Please enjoy!
This is what can happen when kind people make the world a little brighter. These are true events that happened to me, and I will never forget them, and they have all touched my heart. These people are the ones who have created so many lasting memories for me. The highlights for me start in 2011, and this is where my story begins.
In 2011 I got a chance for the first time to see the horse I got to help name race. Her name is Sydneys Flight! Mike Saftic, a harness driver, said I could choose five names that I liked and explained to me how it all worked and that‘s how I became so interested in Standardbred racing. And we are still hoping for her to win.
Standardbred racing has made such an impact on my life that for my 11th birthday all I wanted was my ORC (groom’s license) which I got, and I celebrated my birthday in Mohawk’s dining room.
It does not stop there, on North America Cup night( 2011), when Blue Porsche won the Goodtime Finals stake race, someone who was connected to the horse (who was my third grade teacher and Blair Burgess’s sister) said that my dad and I could come out to the winner’s circle to have our pictures taken. That was fun!
Last year at the North America Cup (2011) I got the honour of being in the winner’s circle by an invitation from Mr. Carl Jamieson. As pictures were being taken I was given an opportunity to hold the cup. (I did not want to hold it: it was too pretty!) I also had a quick chat with Jody Jamieson following pictures, when I was back at my spot along the rail. I was able to congratulate him on his big win when he was on his way back to the paddock!
Then he took off his North America Cup ball cap that he had just got, asked a gentlemen standing beside me, my mom, and dad for his marker. Mr. Jamieson proceeded to sign it then he placed it on my head. After Mr. Jamieson did that my head dropped and tears flowed. It truly was a very magical and memorable night. And I could not thank him enough. That night I slept with that hat like I sleep with my teddy bears. To this day I still remember that night like it happened yesterday. That hat is on my dresser I see when I wake up and before I go to bed, and it reminds of all the kind people I have been able to meet.
Before school started again, my dad said he would take me to another track I had never been to before. He decided to take me to Clinton Raceway, and we knew Legend’s Day was coming up two days before I went back to school. So on September 4, my mom, my dad and I hopped in our van and started the long two-hour drive from our house to good old Clinton Raceway. Once there, I got to meet the legends, (John Campbell, Keith Waples, Bud Fritz, Jim Doherty, Ray Remmen, Doug Brown, Bill O’Donnell, Ron Waples and Wally Hennessey) and hear a couple of their stories. I really wanted to see the Legend’s Day race which was the 10th race.
As I was sitting close to the fence, I was screaming “Good luck” to all the drivers that day for every race. Every driver that I said good luck to won and if there happened to be more than one driver in a race that I knew they all did well and one of them won. Every race it usually happened. My dad thought I was wearing horse shoes that day!
We were watching the races and this man named Ian Fleming was standing on the other side of the fence watching the races as well. Then my mom turned to me and said, “Sydney would you like anything? “No,” I replied. The man (Mr. Fleming) on the other side of the fence said, “Sydney, do you happen to have a horse named after you?” “Yes,” I replied. He then told me that horse was born and raised at my farm. Then we all chuckled. We stopped just in time to here the announcer say, “It’s the race you have all been waiting for Legend’s Day Invitational Trot.” Then he proceeded to tell what drivers and what horses were in that race.
At the post parade I told John Campbell good luck and sure enough he won. After the race the drivers were asked to go to a spot for a photo. On the way to the photo, Wally Hennessey put his helmet on the ground in front of us only on the other side of the fence and asked us to watch it for him. When he returned, he thanked us. We talked and then Mr. Hennessey took his gloves out of his helmet and asked my mom for a marker then he signed his gloves and passed them over the fence to me. Then shook my hand and I told him thank you very much. What a great memory! After I was given the gloves, I wore them the rest of the day.
I met a very nice man, his name was Bill O’ Donnell, after the Legend’s race I talked to him, and he signed his whip and gave it to me and to this day we are great friends. He gave a picture of Nihilator and he signed it, and told me the story behind the picture.
Later after we had gotten a bite to eat we went back to our place along the fence we watched a couple more races. After one of the races, one of the horses went wild. It kept knocking the groom over and got loose. Since my Dad had been in the horses prior to becoming my Dad, he jumped the fence and stopped the horse. It was pretty neat to watch because I had never really seen my dad in action with horses before.
It was four minutes to before race No. 12 and we just started chatting to this young girl about what happens when I tell a driver “good luck” and she said, “Well my horse is in the 13th race you’ll have to tell Trevor Henry good luck for me, and you can come get your picture taken if he does win. Let me tell you just before that race started it poured but since we were told if the horse won we could go out and get our picture taken and the horse won. My dad wheeled me (I am in a wheelchair) onto the track in the pouring rain. Oh, and I was still wearing my gloves!
There was a contest in 2011 to attend the O’ Brien Awards (which took place in January 2012). I wrote a four-and-a-half-page story explaining why I should go, and what Standardbred racing meant to me, and I won! The O’Brien Awards were just after Christmas, it was the best Christmas present I ever got! At the O’Brien Awards we sat with the couple who owns 2-Year-Old Trotting Filly of the Year Check Me Out. We became quick friends. We have kept in contact with them to this day.
That same night we met up with the Jamiesons whom we met at the North America Cup, and Mr. Carl Jamieson and his wife said if Up The Credit won his category, my dad and I could go up on stage. When the envelope was being opened for 3-Year-Old Pacing Colt of the Year I was on the edge of my seat and excited like you could not imagine. I think it was mostly nerves. All the nerves soon were put to a rest, when the winner was announced into the microphone: “Ladies and Gentlemen your winner for the 2011 O’Brien 3-Year-Old Pacing Colt of the Year is Up The Credit.” We were all so happy, emotions were shared and memories were made.
On Mother’s Day, (in 2012) Standardbred Canada and some breeding farms put on a Mother’s Day Celebration, where you could see the foals with their dams. That day we met three lovely ladies. They were Anna Meyers, (president of the breeders association for Ontario), Joanne Colville (a breeder, trainer and owner), and a lady named Debby (breeder, trainer and owner).
In 2012 it continued! Just like the previous year, I wanted to go Mohawk, and renew my license. The same horse that raced the year before was there, I guess you call it a birthday coincidence. Also on my birthday I got the best present I could ever ask for my own racing jacket, with my racing colours, purple and pink, with white trim, with three purple horseshoes on the pink horizontal strip, on the back.
Also Anna Meyers gave me a gift certificate, to get my pants, to go with my jacket. I haven’t gotten them yet. I don’t know whether to get my name, or stripes (like a professional), or both.
Later that week I was informed that my dream of jogging a racehorse was coming true! Ron Waples had a special seat that fit on a jogger. Two weekends later my mom, my dad and I met Mr. (Ron) Waples, Liz (his wife), Mr. (Bill) O’Donnell, and Cathy his friend, at the back stretch of Mohawk. I was a little nervous but I was so excited I didn’t even notice. Once we got on the track it felt surreal, I could not believe it was happening! Some events that happen to you don’t sink in right away; I think it took me a few days before I thought, “Wow! I jogged a horse and I wore my jacket.” The horse I jogged, his name was Learn The Lingo and his barn name was Lurch. He was a (retired) 6-year-old trotting gelding. His favorite treat was not a carrot, nor an apple, but licorice.
Sometime in June Mr. (Bill) O’Donnell was kind and generous and he had a helmet professionally made for me to go with my jacket. It truly is a piece of art to me! It has my name and initials on it multiple times, with pink and purple strips with some white. The most special is part is the very top in a little ribbon that looks like a banner it says No. 1 fan. I hold it dear to my heart.
This is how people in the horse racing industry have touched me, and this is just a small part of what has happened to me. To me memories are the most important things in life, and because of the harness racing industry, and those in the sport, I have lots that I will never forget.