Thursday, March 31, 2011

Julia Brimo's Visit With Eibar Coa And The Fight Against Gravity

A year ago, I wrote a story about a little bolt of energy named Julia Brimo. When I visited Brimo at Toronto Rehab's Lyndhurst Centre, she was just six weeks removed from surgery to fuse together vertebrae damaged when she fell from Golden Stride, who had clipped heels during a race at Keeneland.

Brimo was battered, bruised and broken...but only physically. Her spirit could not have been stronger. As we spoke in the atrium of the rehab facility with her sister Alicia and friend Sean Hall, I was overwhelmed by her will and determination to get better. She was generous in sharing her story and positivity with me and recently she imparted some of that good spirit to her fellow jockey Eibar Coa who is recovering from a terrible accident in a February 18th race at Gulfstream Park.

Julia Brimo visits with Eibar Coa

(Photo courtesy of the Julia Brimo Facebook Page)

"It was great to see him," said Brimo over the phone from Kentucky. "He’s going through some stuff that I went through. I can relate to what he’s going through and he could ask me questions and I’m just so glad that I went."

Brimo, who was once a Woodbine regular and won a Sovereign Award as the nation's top apprentice in 2003, warms up recalling her meeting with Coa.

"The look on his face when he saw me...that was pricless," said Brimo. "I’ve known Coa since 2003 and I remember when I came to Canada in June, I went to the track, to the jock’s room...and he actually came in and rode a horse that day. He said, 'here’s my number, if you ever need anything don’t hesitate to call me'."

It was a goodwill gesture from a veteran rider to reach out to a younger colleague and the sincerity of the effort resonated with Brimo.

"When I heard he got hurt, I was in the Caymans. I located his agent and told him I wanted to come and see him. He didn’t know I was coming but when I walked into his room the look on his face was wow…," whooshed Brimo with a laugh.

Brimo spending her winter in the Cayman Islands sounds restful, but it was a working vacation.

"I did some more water therapy," said Brimo."I did a lot of running in the ocean and all that fun stuff."

When I last spoke with Brimo, she was busy inspiring her fellow patients in the less exotic locale of the Lyndhurst Centre in chilly Toronto. In my story, I wrote of her determination to learn to walk again.

"At first I would take about five steps and my legs would shake and I’d have to sit down,” says Brimo. “They put a belt around me real tight and someone behind me would hold the belt and so if I go to fall they have me. I just kept on walking. I pushed myself a lot harder than they wanted me to.”

Brimo kept pushing and now she leads a daily post parade of inpatients.

"I inspired people here,” laughs Brimo.

“I’m walking around every night and do laps around the ward and so many people now want to do it too. They’re going to their therapist saying they want to walk as well. I’m setting up my own walking or wheeling club. People come up to me and say, ‘I stood up today’.”

Julia with her sister Alicia at Lyndhurst Centre

(Photo courtesy of the Julia Brimo Facebook Page)

I asked Brimo if Coa shared her determination for recovery.

"Yes, he’s hard headed," laughs Brimo. "It’s funny, we went to one of his physio classes and they said to me, 'can you tell him to have more patience and relax'. And I was like, 'you buy that here?' I said 'No, that’s what got me where I am so I can't tell him that'."

And where Brimo is at is pretty good. She continues to work hard at her therapy every day. Her 'Julia Brimo Get Well Card' Facebook page includes smiling photos with friends and even a video of her new and improved golf swing. She is stronger and healthier than when we last met. However, a lack of mobility in her right arm means she is not quite at the end of her recovery just yet, so she has to keep working.

"This part is hard. It’s the longest stretch I’ve ever had to ride," said Brimo. "I still can’t raise my right arm above my head but I can do a lot of things easier now than I could two months ago. There’s always a little bit of improvement and it’s that last little bit that I need."

It is incredible that Brimo, who a little more than a year ago could not sit up for more than three minutes at a time, is now approaching a full recovery. She is so determined to meet her goal that she is currently in Kentucky weighing the option of a nerve transplant.

"It could give me full mobility. That’s what I’m hoping for," said Brimo. "I can raise my right arm above my head with the help of my other arm, but I can’t do it on my own. If I’m standing up I can’t do it, but laying down I can. Against gravity certain parts are working and certain parts are missing so I’m seeing if this surgeon can help me."

That Brimo is battling gravity fills me with sympathy for the force of attraction between all masses in the universe. There's just no quit in this jock.

"I think it will be a little bit intense as I’m going to have go back to where I was," she said, realizing yet another rehabilitation to come. "But in the long run if I get 80% back I’m for it. I just look at the positives and, hey, you regret the things you don’t do."

In the meantime, Brimo continues to live her life to the fullest, which includes getting back on a horse.

"I rode Friday at Ocala," said Brimo. "I was on (Woodbine trainer) Ricky Griffith’s pony in Ocala at Classic Mile. I’m glad I went too. At first my body was like ‘what’s this’ but the more I went riding the better it got."

Getting back on the horse

(Photo courtesy of the Julia Brimo Facebook Page)

And as for that visit with her 'hard headed' friend?

"I think it was pretty helpful for both of us," said Brimo. "I have no doubt that he will have full recovery."

* * *

For a look at Coa's incredible recovery, check out this video compiled by a local news station showing Coa working out and at a golfing fundraiser.

My original piece on Julia is nominated as Outstanding Feature Story at Friday's Sovereign Awards gala which will be broadcast live via streaming video at 8:30PM EST. I hope I win or I'll have Julia to answer to!

For a full listing of the 2010 Sovereign Award nominees, I invite you to review my earlier post, Photo Essay: The 2010 Sovereign Award Nominees.

I will be Tweeting results for all categories live from the event, so if you haven't already, click this link to follow me on Twitter. As always, you can keep track of the latest horse racing news by clicking into TripleDeadHeat's Woodbine News page.

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