Each week for 26 weeks, I am publishing a post about women who are not widely known but should be—women who can inspire us, teach us, and encourage us to get out of our comfort zones and reach for our dreams. Week 10 of my A to Z challenge introduces us to Julie Krone.
I have always been a bit afraid of horses, perhaps because they are such large animals. This was never really a problem for me; I just avoided them. You don’t really have to be around horses if you don’t want to be. But when my daughter—at around age five—fell in love with horses, I knew I was in trouble. I spent the next decade supporting her interest by taking her to countless riding lessons and horse camps. Her passion helped me overcome some of my trepidation, although I still wouldn’t choose to ride a horse, let alone race one.
Thankfully Julie Krone, even though she is a petite 4’ 10”, is not intimidated by horses. In fact, she is the leading female Thoroughbred horse racing jockey of all time. Born in Michigan in 1963, Julie rode her first horse when she was just two years old, thanks to her mother, Judi: “It was Judi, a former high-school equestrian champion, who put her diapered two-year-old on the back of a palomino and sent the animal trotting off to show a prospective buyer how gentle the horse could be with children. Julie instinctively sat the trot, then took up the reins and guided the horse back to Judi” (encyclopedia.com). Soon Julie was living her own mother’s deferred dreams; she won her first race when she was just five years old (encyclopedia.com).
She set her sights on becoming a jockey when she was 14, and won her first race two years later: “She soon became the first female leading rider at Monmouth Park, The Meadowlands, Belmont Park, Gulfstream Park and Atlantic City Race Course. Among her myriad achievements, Krone won six races in one day at both The Meadowlands (twice) and Monmouth Park, and won five races in one day at Saratoga Race Course and Santa Anita Park” (womenofthehall.org).
Yet as a female in a male dominated sport, Julie faced tremendous obstacles: “the ride to the winner’s circle was never an easy one, and could be particularly tough for a woman. Thoroughbred racing had a longstanding men-only culture; the first professional female jockeys, including Barbara Jo Rubin, faced bias, suffered numerous indignities, and even endured the threat of physical violence” (encyclopedia.com).
Julie battled through the sexism, and made history in 1993 when she won the Belmont Stakes and became the first woman to win a Triple Crown event. In 2003 she became the first woman to win a Breeders’ Cup event and the first woman to win a million dollar event (womenofthehall.org). However, the decade in between those milestones was a painful one. Soon after winning the Belmont Stakes, Julie suffered a devastating fall in a race in Saratoga, New York, and shattered her ankle. She was also kicked in the chest by another horse, and suffered an elbow injury that left the bone protruding through her skin: “I’ve had bones that were broken clean in two…but this was beyond that.… Normally you can say things to separate yourself from the pain: ‘O.K., breathe. Do yoga. Don’t lose control.’ But with this, there was no control. My neck hurt and I couldn’t breathe. I had no faculties. I was in outer space. I tried to pass out, but I couldn’t. I swear, if I’d had the choice then, I would have contemplated suicide because it hurt so bad” (encyclopedia.com).
In 1995, just when she was finally healing from this devastating injury, she fell again, breaking both of her hands. The pain from her injuries, along with the fear of injuring herself again, led her to retire in 1999. After working as a commentator and analyst, she returned to racing in 2002, and raced successfully for another two years before retiring for good in 2004. Julie was inducted into the Thoroughbred Racing Hall of Fame in 2000 after a record breaking career that included 20,000 mounts, 3,500 winners, and $81 million in purses. What means more to her, though, is making a difference and being a role model for other women and girls: “Athletes tend to be known for their success. But I would rather have some little girl say, ‘Oh, Julie Krone fell down but she came back. She wasn’t afraid‘” (encyclopedia.com).
J is for Julie Krone, a fierce and fearless athlete and competitor.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia.