So much more than a talented young jockey. Why the loss of Nathan Berry hurts so much.

April 5, 2014

He celebrated the way you want them to. Showing that victory meant something.

Nathan Berry has just won the Magic Millions. Easily. The young bloke had been up against some of the nation’s best hoops. And left them in his wake.

He waved his arms, and gave a yelp. Showed off that million dollar smile. Somewhere between rock star and choir boy.

The Gold Coast faithful lapped it up. It wouldn’t have surprised if he’d just stepped from the Broadbeach surf. He could have been their poster boy.

Confidence without arrogance. A young man sports administrators dream of.

He fulfilled every commitment asked of him that day. Every interview. All with that cheeky grin.

How painful it is, that we won’t get to see it again. We lost Nathan this week. Not from a fall. But from a rare illness, that most of us still don’t understand.

When he become crook in Singapore a few weeks back, it gained little attention here. Some thought it was from wasting, the curse of all jockeys.

But it was so much more. Something so insidious and invasive, Nathan stood no chance.

In the days before his death, the support through racing circles was overwhelming. Social media came to the fore. He must have felt it, surely, in that hospital bed so far away.

Racing folk are rare beasts. They are quite capable of tearing each other limb from limb, over the merits of a change in riding tactics. But when trouble strikes, they unite. And when a family is hurting like Nathan’s is right now, they reach rare levels.

Tributes on Facebook and Twitter have been overwhelming. Such a genuine outpouring of love, and respect, and sorrow.

Jockeys, trainers, punters, journos. Millionaire owners, and one dollar punters. As one, they’ve sent a message to Nathan’s loved ones. You are not alone.

We want his twin brother Tommy to know that we are trying to share his pain. Of course, we can do little to ease what must be unbearable heartache. Two young men with the world before them. Now there’s just one.

I never met Nathan. But I feel like we were mates. Just like the rest of his followers on social media. We saw pictures of his victories. Laughed at fun the boys would have, on their rare nights out.

We shared his wedding day, from our phones and I-pads. Saw the love between two special young people. Just a few months ago.

Some things don’t make sense. A young man who you would be proud to have as your son. From a family that base everything they do, on love and respect.

It’s Golden Slipper day, and we’ll have a punt, because that’s what we do. Tommy still wants to take his ride in the great race. Could you do it? Such courage. Because Nathan should have been there too. Riding Unencumbered. The horse that he danced on after that Magic Millions win.

Even if Tommy’s mount Valentia gets up for Gai, there’ll be no real celebrations. Just sadness. On so many levels.

Keep the tributes coming. Remember Nathan in your own way. For me, it’s the happiest ever winner of one of my favourite races. Which I’ll never be able to watch the same way again.

Getting ready for a special birthday. Accepting that my little girl isn’t little any more.

September 10, 2013

When she arrived in this world, it was with a quiet cry. Nothing like the ear-splitting scream her big sister let out a few years earlier.

It was like she didn’t want a fuss. No need to be the centre of attention.

In the early years, she was happy to go with the flow. She would follow her sister around the house. And the yard. They were inseparable.

It didn’t take long for her own personality to come through. There was a determination about everything she did. She would get frustrated easily. Still does.

Her kindergarten teacher told us what a delight she was to teach. But there would be tears, if she didn’t get things just right.

As she got older, we were able to see so many beautiful traits develop. She adores family. She can fight like a warrior with her sister. But no siblings are closer.

No-one loves cousins more. She would get excited whenever there would be a visit. Still does.

She drove us nuts to get a pet. Make that pets. Dog. Cat. Guinea pigs. She has such a caring heart.

When she laughs, you have to laugh with her. She runs out of breath. Will fall down from a fit of the giggles.

She’s ticklish too. One touch and she goes into a frenzy. Dads get great amusement from such things.

She loves nothing more than getting everyone together to watch a movie. Expect to cop a blast if you try to leave the room. Unless you’re making her more popcorn.

She sings constantly. I wish the world could hear her like I do. The voice of an angel. But for our ears only. She won’t perform. I still hope that will change.

Rarely does a minute go by when she’s not doing some sort of dance move. In the kitchen. In the lift. Around the pool. Like her sister, she has a gift when it comes to grooving.

Of late, there have been difficult days. Changes at home. Tough times at school. But she is loved, so very much, by all those in her life.

There are many photos of her that I cherish. One is at about age 3, at work on a tiny ironing board. So incredibly cute. But with that determination on show.

Another is with her sister, a few years later. They are poking their tongues out at the camera, with big smiles. It hangs at my door, so I can giggle at the cheekiness of it all each morning.

Perhaps my favourite, is one of her asleep as a toddler. She is on my chest, and I’m sleeping too. She is safe and secure, with my arm around her. Never wanting to let her go.

It’s what Dads do. We want to protect our daughters forever. Even if they’re not asleep on our chests anymore.

Tomorrow, this gorgeous girl, is little no more. My daughter becomes a teenager.

She makes me proud, every day. She’s taught me so much. About love, and caring. And family.

I count my blessings, to have two daughters, who are so beautiful in every way. What a lucky man.

As of tomorrow, Daughter Two becomes Teenager Too. Happy birthday Hannah.

A lesson in love, after all these years. Two friends showing the rest of us how it’s done.

August 27, 2013

We worked together more than twenty years ago.

I was a kid, with little idea about anything. Somehow, they still befriended me.

He was the radio station’s sports man. Followed in the giant footsteps of his mate Darrell Eastlake. He was our rugby league caller too. Accurate and passionate.

She looked after station promotions. If we were involved in something, she was in the thick of it. Possibly the funniest woman I’ve known. A delicious laugh with a razor-sharp wit.

We caught up last weekend. Like so many of my colleagues of the time, we’d lost contact over the years. They were in town, and made the effort to get in touch. I’m so glad they did.

I organised to meet at a pub with a view. I saw them before they saw me. Sure, time had changed both. Older, and a little slower, like other retired couples. I could have sworn they almost walked in step.

After hugs and handshakes, the stories came thick and fast. We laughed lots. It was a time when after-work drinks happened every night. And some afternoons. Even a few mornings. Long before Human Resources departments were involved in our lives.

As we sat there, I noticed things about them. One would help the other finish a story. She buttered his fruit loaf without breaking sentence. He organised the sugar for her cup of tea.

Things were not always so easy. I remembered back to when they got together. Both had gone through painful break-ups. A difficult time. It took years. But they were meant to be.

Over a second cuppa, she told me about some of their struggles. He sat quietly, letting her tell the tale of their life. I had no idea how tough things had been.

However, each story came with a laugh. No seeking pity here. It’s just how life plays out. They were survivors, who had each other. What else mattered?

She said they talked, constantly. First thing in the morning. Last thing at night. Everywhere in between. They are still genuinely interested in each other.

They giggle, lots. Even when there’s not much to smile about. They didn’t need anyone else around to have fun. They have always enjoyed doing the most basic of things together.

I asked if there was a secret. Simple, she said. Find your best friend. And be with them for life.

They were running late for another catch-up, but didn’t seem to mind. He told of their fascination with the car’s ‘talking navigator’. A woman’s voice telling him where to go. Another one. They both laughed at that.

We promised to keep in touch, and we will. I watched them walk away, and they were talking as they went. He was carrying her coat.

Two people, still happy after all this time. Best friends. With no need for anything outside of each other. Yep, she’s right. It’s that simple. Love always wins.

A big thanks, to those who helped me kick cancer’s butt.

June 11, 2013

My surgeon, The Genius, said it like we’d won the pub meat raffle.

“The tests are back, and we’re sure we’ve got it all.” His voice was pleased, but measured. The tray of t-bones thanks.

I was in my hospital bed, enjoying the lingering effects of the morphine. Minus a cancerous prostate.

What do you say to someone who may have just saved your life? It is a moment in time. Surely worthy of a man’s greatest speech.

Or not. I came up with two slurred words. “Thanks Doc”.

He didn’t seem to mind. Everything had gone perfectly. Text-book surgery, he called it. Just what a patient wants to hear.

It’s hard to describe the relief. Fears and doubts, extinguished in a single sentence. Light overcomes dark. Success, I have no doubt, from all those positive vibes.

Later, as The Genius was off saving someone else, I reflected on the love that has been directed my way. Strange in a way, that it took cancer to make me fully appreciate that.

In the days before surgery, I received messages from such a varied bunch. Family and friends. Media colleagues from today, and decades ago. Old school buddies. Footy mates. Racing folk. And you, dear readers of this blog.

A few went above and beyond. The precious gift of passing on strength I didn’t possess. Support and reassurance from the heart. It let me enter that operating theatre, as positive as I had been in the months before. I’ll never forget that.

After a few days of being looked after by a wonderful medical team, I left hospital. With a catheter attached to me. This is a device inserted where things should never be inserted.

It must have originated as a military weapon of torture. How it came to be part of the medical world I have no idea. But it did the job. It came out after a week, and I would have gladly given the nurse responsible a new car for her gentle efforts.

Now, I’m resting up. And yes, there are challenges ahead. A blood test in a few weeks will tell me whether the cancer has spread. The Genius is confident that won’t be the case. So am I. In fact, I’ve called the result of this race before they hit the post.

To everyone, thank you. I asked for help to kick cancer’s butt, and you gave it to me.

Others are still in the fight. I think of them daily. Some are not so fortunate. A great mate lost his mum, just days after I was released from hospital. So unfair.

The mission now is to help others. If you’re a bloke over 40, get your prostate checked. Yes, 40. If you’re the partner of a bloke over 40, make him get his prostate checked. And don’t take no for an answer.

Life is a raffle. I’m confident I’ve won this time. If your turn comes, I want the same result for you.

Why kids know everything and parents know nothing. Lessons on how to let them find their way.

June 12, 2012

It’s hard for a child to accept that parents may have actually achieved something in a former life.

There is no possible way any of us could have had ability of any sort, way back then.

It’s all so different now. And we don’t get it.

As much as they love us, they refuse to believe that we could run, and dance, and kick goals.

They want proof. Unless it’s on YouTube, it doesn’t matter. Grainy old photos just add to the notion that such events were held in prehistoric times, and therefore don’t count.

Daughter Two has been preparing for her annual Sports Carnival. Not training, mind you. Preparing. As in clothes, and hair decorations, and streamers.

It must be said, she will look the part. In the best tradition of the world’s greatest athletes, she’s been visualising this day for months now. If the paparazzi attended primary school events, she would be on the front page.

As House Captain, it’s a big deal. She has a steely determination to dominate. The school oval will be a sea of Firetail Red. It’s her hope that the others will be left sulking in a far corner.

She’s also keen on winning her pet events. Attending to her social media rounds after school makes it impossible to do any extra practice, however she remains confident.

We were discussing how she should approach the sprints, and the relay, as we do at this time each year. I suggested a strategy that I thought might be helpful in bringing down her arch-rival. At which point, I received ‘the look’.

Most parents will understand. This is when we are made to realise just how little we know about the world.

“Dad”, she said. “It’s simple. You just run as fast as you can, try not to fall over, and see what happens. I don’t need a plan. Anyway, it’s DIFFERENT these days.”

Of course it is. When I was running they used sundials for stopwatches and hessian sacks for singlets.

I reminded her of the 800 metres, held last week. She performed magnificently, finishing second, thereby qualifying for the district competition. Even though her game plan was to sprint as hard as she could, stop mid-race in case she had to vomit, and run again.

Daughter Two defended this approach, declaring that the winner had done exactly the same thing. She just didn’t stop as long.

I then made the mistake of recalling, modestly of course, my own school athletic career. There are state medals hidden in a box somewhere.

I would have continued, had there not been an outburst of laughter from all those at the table. They have seen me struggle to run to a ringing phone. Who needs tips from him?

Probably just as well that the conversation ceased. I know what the next question would have been. “Did you run at the Olympics?” There is no middle ground with this lot. You’re either the very best, or an also-ran.

Like football. If I dare suggest that I played at a ground we see on tv, I know what’s coming. “Did you play State of Origin?” No, the selectors were happy with the other 30,000 players in front of me.

Mention that you trod the boards in the same thigh-slapping musical we’re watching, and it’s “Were you in a movie?” Sadly, no again. Funniest Home Videos doesn’t count.

It stretches to homework too. It was suggested that The Teenager should run her French assignment past me. Her reply was by way of a polite giggle. “Do you really think Dad will understand what I’m saying? It’s in French!” Touche.

I know it’s a phase. In and around the teenage years. When they were small, we were their heroes. And when they get older, hopefully, they’ll believe the clippings.

Might be best that I keep quiet for a bit. It’s all about love and support. And there’s oodles of that. In the meantime, if they find themselves in need of late-night karaoke hints, I’m their man.