JOCKEY Brian Toomey who, in a remarkable display of courage, grit and determination returned to the saddle after been given just a 3% chance of survival, having suffered a devastating fall in 2013, has been named the Limerick Person of the Month.
When he hit the ground after taking a headfirst fall from Solway Dandy in a handicap hurdle at Perth, Scotland on July 4, 2013, Brian ‘died’.
The medical personnel who attended him at the scene later said he’d been dead for six seconds. Fast forward two years and the 26-year-old has began working at one of racing’s biggest stables after becoming an employee of David Pipe.
“I’m working for David Pipe, a son of Martin Pipe, who is one of the biggest trainers in the whole country. He is based down in the South of England. I only started with him two weeks ago,” Brian told the Limerick Leader this week from the Somerset yard. “After the injury, it’s like starting out all over again so I’m keeping the head down, which I’m not brilliant at - but I’m trying,” he smiled.
Seven hundred and four days after suffering the fall, Brian was re-licensed as a professional jockey.
He returned to the saddle on July 12 at Southwell and enjoyed his first race on Irish soil since the fall during the Galway Festival last month. “It’s what I love doing so if I couldn’t have gotten back being a jockey I would have been absolutely heartbroken.”
Getting back riding he says “is what dreams are made of. I can’t wait for the day I ride my first winner after coming back. That would be a dream come true. The dream is nearly there but when that happens I will have come full circle.
“I want to do it because it’s my love and it’s my passion but it will also prove so many doubters wrong. Obviously, we all want to win big races but it would be nice to ride a winner back where I got injured. I have moved more south now so the chances of me being up there won’t be as much as when I was up north.”
His dream race to win would be the champion hurdle because, he says, it blends both speed and class. “It’s not a long distance race - it’s a shortness of two miles. It’s the minimum distance you can run over so it’s about speed, class and, obviously, it’s Cheltenham. It’s not a big race with 20 runners in it - there are only a small number of runners in the field and a lot of horses I would have admired all my life like Istabraq has won it three times. It’s a race I do love.”
While his family - which is made up of his parents Johnny and Marian, sister Aine and brother Sean - will always be nervous when he is racing “they seem quite proud and they are happy that I am happy because they know that is all I wanted to do.
“I rang my mother after you telling me about this award and she was thrilled,” he smiled.
Brian’s determined effort to get back riding has been influenced by his cousins John Thomas McNamara and Robbie McNamara who both suffered long-term paralysis as a result of falls on the track. “Robbie is a distant relation of ours. I saw Robbie twice in hospital. It is tough, but as far as he is concerned, his life is only starting. He doesn’t feel like it has put a wall up for him at all,” he said.
“When I got my licence back, I got a text message from John Thomas’ phone saying ‘well done on getting your licence back’. Jeez! For me to get that from someone like John Thomas who has been through the wars, it meant a lot, it really did.”
Brian is looking forward to returning to Ireland next month when he will make an appearance on the Late Late Show on October 2 with Robbie McNamara. The support he has received since his fall, he says, has been “unbelievable” and continues to this day. “My nana is 87 and she came to Galway when I riding there and she will be at the Late Late Show. She had 13 kids so she is a tough woman,” he smiled of Mary Chawke who lives in Banogue.
The Limerick Person of the Month award is sponsored by the Limerick Leader, Southern and the Clarion Hotel.