Limerick’s Robbie McNamara to get back on a horse

Aine Fitzgerald


Aine Fitzgerald

What happened, my old friend? Limerick jockey Robbie McNamara catching up with Forgotten Rules
THIS Friday, at a riding school in County Wicklow, in his own time and at his own pace, Robbie McNamara will mount a horse once again.

THIS Friday, at a riding school in County Wicklow, in his own time and at his own pace, Robbie McNamara will mount a horse once again.

He will hold on with one hand. Steer with the other.

The 26-year-old has no feeling in his legs. For now, at least, nothing at all.

Festina lente, a charming little classical adage translates as, make haste slowly. Used as a motto by Roman emperors, it appears, at first glance to be a riddle, because it is made up of words which contradict each other. It is also the name of the riding school on Old Connaught Avenue, Bray, where Robbie McNamara will get back in the saddle after a fall in Wexford three months ago left him for dead.

“If I’m nervous about going to a riding school now, I’m in trouble,” smiles the Cheltenham-winning jockey during his first trip home to County Limerick at the weekend.

“I went to the riding school the other day to suss out the situation so I’m going back on Friday and getting back on a horse.”

There is probably no job in sport more dangerous than being a jockey. By all accounts, they’re made of different stuff – a rare breed who possess an abundance of zeal and a fearless streak.

However, when Bursledon took what Robbie described as “a bad step” at the fourth last in Wexford on April 10, no God-given gift could cushion the fall.

Eight broken ribs. Six cracked vertebrae. A collapsed lung. Internal bleeding. The first words in a remarkable story chronicling a jockey’s toughness of body and steeliness of mind has been written.

Will Robbie McNamara regain use of his legs again?

Nobody knows.

“I haven’t been told no, but I’d be very surprised,” he says.

Either way, the youngest boy of Andrew McNamara Snr and his wife Kathleen is going about his business.

The last two weeks have been good, but, prior to that there were some “horrific days”.

For the first five weeks after the fall, Robbie found things very easy.

“When it happened I was fine about it. I don’t think it set in and I was on a lot of medication – a lot of them were happy pills. It was after that that things got tough,” he explains.

His Twitter account went quiet. Reality set in. The withdrawals from the medication made themselves known. With long hours in the Mater hospital and nothing to occupy his mind, Robbie admits, he hit rock bottom.

There would be moments of profound pain, “excruciating” at times and, to add to the frustration, it manifested itself in his legs and part of his hips that he can’t even move.

Spring came and went, summer dawned, but the horseman who dreamed of one day winning the Grand National, couldn’t see a way forward.

“Things got tough but family and friends stood by me. My parents were there, friends kept coming in to visit. I think if they weren’t there I would have found it an awful lot harder.”

What Robbie feared the most was that his injury would change his personality and outlook on life. Thankfully, his approach to the sport he loves, hasn’t waned.

Last Friday, on his way home to Croom from the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Dun Laoghaire, Robbie popped into Moyglare Stud in Maynooth to catch up with an old friend. “He was asking what happened,” read Robbie’s tweet, which accompanied a photo of Forgotten Rules nuzzling his knee.

Robbie always had a soft spot for the horse. On one of his first day trips out of the Mater he went to Navan to see him running. “He would have been a favourite of mine,” he smiles.

Back home in Croom, little had changed since Robbie last visited, save for the visits by relatives, friends and neighbours.

Saturday morning brought Robbie’s first cousin, JT McNamara, also from Croom. In a sad coincidence, a fall in the Cheltenham Festival of 2013 left JT paralysed from the neck down.

It’s a reality that he and the wider McNamara family have faced up to with a quiet dignity and grace.

“John Thomas is good. He is tough out,” his cousin insists. “You wouldn’t think he had a care in the world – he is one hardy man.”

By Monday, Robbie was back in Dun Laoghaire getting stuck into his rehab. The plan is to be home on September 2, all going well.

“It’s tough going but I’m enjoying it. I’m getting my arms fitter and bigger and stronger than they ever were before.”

He’s standing up using leg splints everyday and has taken driving lessons in Dun Laoghaire with hand controls. The next step is buying a car and getting back on the road. As well as physically, he’s made great strides mentally.

A new column with The Irish Field is easing him back into the outside world. Journalism is a career he’d like to pursue.

“The column this week wasn’t an effort. I will be writing for the Racing Post every day during Galway as well. It’s a nice little gig.”

When the hour comes to depart Dun Laoghaire, Robbie plans to return to Kildare. It’s where he’d be if he hadn’t suffered the fall. As he says himself, life goes on.

“I have my head, and my arms and my body so I’ll be alright.”

Festina lente, Robbie – hasten slowly.