Lyndie Wade recovered from a serious fall last November and will compete in Arlington's 2008 meet, which begins today.
"Man, Randy, he's in trouble."
Those five words from the first paramedic on scene at Hawthorne Race Course still echo with veteran jockey Randy Meier.
As Meier lay on the track writhing in pain with a mangled arm he couldn't lift off the ground, one that would later be diagnosed as broken, he quickly realized he was the lucky one.
For just a few feet away, lying motionless on that late November afternoon, was 16-year-old apprentice jockey Lyndie Wade.
There was the kid with the omnipresent smile, the kid who began his career at Louisiana Downs last summer before coming to Hawthorne in the fall, somberly being placed in an ambulance.
Not a sound. Not a move.
'I heard a pop'
It had been business as usual at Hawthorne minutes earlier as a field of six rounded the turn and headed toward the stretch in the third race on the day's card.
Then Wade's mount, the 3-year-old filly Chestnut Gold, began to surge around the leader. Just as they were about to enter the stretch, Chestnut Gold went down sharply, sending Wade flying headfirst to the dirt. As he bounced around, he was almost hit by another horse.
Meier, aboard Arazi Exchange, was behind Chestnut Gold and had nowhere to go and no time to get there. He, too, was sent sprawling.
"As she was coming around me, it looked like she was going to win," Meier said of Chestnut Gold. "Then I heard a "pop." It sounded like a gun went off."
It wasn't a gun.
Chestnut Gold would eventually be euthanized.
A bedside vigil
When Wade decided to leave his native Louisiana to ride in Chicago last fall, it was jockey agent Jay Fedor with whom the family entrusted to care for their youngster.
And early on, things were going well for the pair at Hawthorne. Wade was riding strong aboard horses Fedor had booked from such top trainers as Wayne Catalano, Christine Janks and Brian Williamson.
"The first time I met him I liked him right away," Meier said. "He was polite, wanted to learn, just a real good kid."
Then they came spinning out of the turn that Friday afternoon.
"My first reaction was "Uh oh," said Fedor, who also handles the mounts for top jockey Chris Emigh. "I knew it was bad right when it happened.
"I was scared. This is a 16-year-old kid whose mom sent him to me and I told her I'd take care of him, and there I was."
And there was Fedor at Loyola Medical Center for the next 42 hours straight, watching, waiting, taking calls from concerned horsemen as Wade was put in a medically induced coma with bleeding on his brain.
He eventually regained consciousness on Dec. 4, and after more than 10 days at Loyola he was transferred to the Marionjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton.
Asked this week about his memory of the horrific incident, Wade just shook his head and smiled.
"Not anything at all," he said.
In fact, his first memory following the race was "being cold sitting in an ambulance on the way to (Marionjoy)."
Wade spent most of December recuperating at Fedor's house.
"He was still acting like he was 12 (years old), the way he would talk," Fedor said. "And when he would walk, he had his balance, but he would still go side to side and was real stiff.
"So I asked the doctor at Loyola, how long would it be until he got back to normal? He said it would be like a light switch; it will just go off. He said it might be today, it might be three months from now."
It proved an accurate diagnosis.
The day before Wade was to hop a train to Maryland to visit his grandfather and continue his rehab, Fedor noticed something different about the young man, who at one time couldn't remember some things he heard 10 minutes earlier or what day of the week it was.
"I came home from work that day and he was like the same kid (he used to be)," he said. "I watched him walk across the room and he was fine. Then I called him over and I started talking to him. I told his mom it was unbelievable.
"It happened overnight."
The good news kept rolling for Wade after he arrived in Maryland in early January.
Before he had left on the trip, he was told that his physical and speech rehab out East might take 4-6 weeks, but a funny thing happened at check-in on Jan. 2, which happened to be his 17th birthday.
"The first part was physical therapy," Wade said. "So they put me through a trial of tests and the guy says, 'I can't put you in here, you're fine. You're free to go.'
"That was the greatest birthday present ever."
Back in the saddle
In March, Wade cleared another big hurdle -- simply getting back on a horse.
He spent a month at Oaklawn Park, galloping horses and trying to get back in racing shape.
"That was a very big step," Wade said. "I got my trust back with the horse. The first couple of weeks it was like me and the horse. Before I got hurt, it was me and the horse -- together. It was like we were separate at first (at Oaklawn), but now we're together."
Sweet, sour return
There were nothing but smiles when Wade finally returned to the jockeys' quarters at Hawthorne earlier this month.
"It felt so good. Everybody welcomed me back -- everybody," Wade said.
"We're so glad to have him back," Meier said.
But just a week after he resumed riding, Wade was tossed again, this time when his mount, Chadder, clipped heels.
But unlike November, this time Wade got right back up. Physically, he was fine, but …
"It shook me up for a week or so," he admitted. "When I got back originally I was starting to get in a good rhythm. Then that spill happened and it kind of threw me back to where I was before.
"But it makes me realize I can go down and get back up. That's important."
'I'm so lucky'
Wade finished his abbreviated second stint at Hawthorne with 8 winners and some much-needed confidence heading into Arlington this weekend.
Actually, he'll bring with him more than just confidence this summer.
"I don't take anything for granted anymore," Wade said. "I thank God every day. I look at it as 'Man, I'm so lucky I get to do this each and every day.' "