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05 July 2012

Carolyn's Story: Black Caviar Therapy

I recently went to Adelaide for the first time in well over 15 years.  I used to visit there, for work, in a past life with CSIRO.  The reason I returned was because trainer Peter Moody had selected 2 races at Adelaide's Morphetville Racecourse to prepare his great champion, and my favourite Pony, Black Caviar, for her engagement with the Queen at Royal Ascot.

On the first trip, on 28 April, after the race was run and won, I spend some time out the back with the Pony.  Those who know my Blog and me will have seen the images from the day, including my own little reunion with the Pony.  What I hadn't posted were some images I took of a lady in a wheel chair, who was able to meet the Pony in the stalls just before they put her on the float home.  I didn't know who the lady in the wheelchair was, I was just intrigued by her, and by the wheels that bore the Famous Pony's great colours.  They brought Nelly back to the stalls, and before the lady realised it, there was a Pony peering down at her, asking for attention gently.  It was a touching moment.  Of course I had no idea who the lady in the wheelchair was.

However a fortnight later, when Black Caviar returned to Morphetville, and I was of course again out the back with my Pony, I walked straight past a woman sitting in the same wheelchair.  I thought for a moment, because I am often not good in these situations at coming forward for fear of appearing pushy.  Then I went back, and gave her a card, telling her I'd taken some pictures of her with the Pony 2 weeks ago, and if she wanted them, to please drop me an email.  

Her name was Carolyn Natt.  We have since become friends, and her story is touching to say the least.  I will let Carolyn tell her story, which she does so well, below, which I've cut and pasted most of, from an article published in the MS Network Magazine.  As you will read, Carolyn was struck down with MS (Multiple Sclerosis) but she has not let the disease stop her, or impede her love of a horse.  

Those of you who know me well will know all about my own 'obsession' with horses.  They are part of my heart and soul.  They are behind who I am and what makes me feel good.  It may not be logical, but they are part of me, and living my life without them is unthinkable.  And they can make the worst day feel even just a tiny bit better, and that's not a bad thing.  In the darkest of times, my horses make me feel a bit more human and a little bit more able to cope.

I will forever be grateful that I came across Carolyn, and have gotten to know her.  And glad that I took these images of her and the great champion Black Caviar.  Please take the time to read her story below the photographs.

Carolyn Natt

I was diagnosed with MS at 51, five days before Christmas and three weeks later my Neurologist gave me the dreaded news that I had Primary Progressive MS (PPMS). That holiday season seemed a blur as the diagnosis sent our lives into a spin.

For 12 months I had been feeling unwell. I had been feeling tired, depressed and the zest for doing my job that I loved was waning.

I noticed I was struggling to walk distances without my left side getting very tired and I had started to develop a noticeable limp. Little tasks became big ones and I felt overawed at the thought of doing the most natural things I had always done. After a visit to my GP, I was referred to a neurologist for an MRI and PPMS was confirmed.

This was a terrible time for us all. I sat down with my husband Greg, son Ashley and daughter Dimity, and we all tried to take it all in. Yes, we had many a cry but at the same time, we tried to be strong for each other. It wasn’t easy, but we all tried to be positive and put plans into place by understanding the disease. I am so fortunate to have a wonderful husband and children, their understanding of my needs and their calm natures helped me cope with my daily struggles.

The PPMS doesn’t give me any remission time, so my symptoms simply continue to worsen.  I have always been a sporty person, I played tennis and netball, but horse riding was my passion.  Animals have always been a major part of my life. I always had pets, a horse, cat and dog and all of my family are animal lovers. We find them great company and I think very therapeutic.

I was born riding horses, my Dad specialised in colt breaking and training harness racing horses, so my love for horses was there from early childhood. I always had a special interest in the thoroughbred. I watched Dad break in many of them and they became my passion. Mum would regularly load us four kids in the FJ and go to the trots to watch Dad race, these are memories I cherish.

Now that I am unable to do any sports, these memories are really cherished. Losing the ability to ride my horse came as a massive blow. I was riding with my brother Andrew up until a few months before my diagnosis and I miss it so much.

In the five years leading up to my diagnosis I was working for a thoroughbred trainer, Phillip Stokes, at Morphettville Racecourse. I would attend all race meets, including some interstate, all trials and country meets.
I photographed all of the stable’s runners and at the end of each month I created a small magazine called “Stokes Racing Stable Update”. The content of the magazine kept all of the owners up to speed with the stable and their runners. I would edit all photos and write an exposé on each horse with accompanying photos then print and post to owners all over Australia and overseas. I did all of this at home on my own printer, it was a huge task but I loved doing it.

Since my diagnosis I have had to give up work and I now find my main transport to be a wheelchair. I can still walk a little way, but when I leave the home boundary, the wheelchair is it. Yes, it is a hard road and it won’t get any easier, I know that. 

But I have a terrific home unit, wonderful friends and neighbours who care and keep me smiling. I think the most important element is to keep positive people around you, negativity is the worst emotion to cope with. Understanding that yes, I have a battle ahead but when I fall down, we can have a laugh. If I can’t put my shoe on we laugh.

Of course we get sad and sometimes. A melt down with tears does us all good, but we all know I am stubborn and determined to live life to the fullest.

I have a go at things I probably shouldn’t, which is sometimes my undoing, but I give it a go, if I don’t I’ll never know. Daily tasks are more and more difficult but I try to get around the negatives and do something positive to perk us up.

“Black Caviar” my dream comes true!

I hadn’t attended the races for 15 months. When it was announced the super mare Black Caviar was coming to Morphettville on 28 April, I just had to be there. I didn’t know if I could do it, surrounded by a predicted huge crowd of over 30,000. I was anxious about a wheelchair in a crowd so big and I didn’t know how I would go. The SAJC sent me a beautiful gift by way of transport to and from Morphettville on the day.  David Peacock (Chairman) and Brenton Wilkinson (CEO) of SAJC, have been in touch with me since I left my work and remain lifelong friends. 

After much hesitation and some anxiety Ashley, Dimity and I did my wheels up in Caviar’s colours. As Greg was away, my dear neighbour came with us to help out. When we arrived I could smell the track and the horses – the atmosphere was exhilarating! After watching the champ win her 20th out of 20 starts, I felt I had done it all. While we were waiting for our transport back to Gawler, trainer Phillip Stokes approached me. I cheekily asked him if he could get me a dollop of Caviar’s manure to freeze and put in a glass ball. Of course he laughed (worth a try) then he grabbed my wheelchair, rushed me through security and before I knew it I was having a private meeting with Black Caviar! I was patting her, in awe of this incredible athlete. Needless to say I was and am still on cloud nine! 

Black Caviar returned 2 weeks later to get her 21st win in a row. Greg and I returned to Morphettville, transport courtesy again from the SAJC. As Caviar waltzed to her 21st win I took great action photos and the day was a dream.

‘I cheekily asked him if he could get me a dollop of Caviar’s manure to freeze and put in a glass ball. Of course he laughed (worth a try) then he grabbed my wheelchair, rushed me through security and before I knew it I was having a private meeting with Black Caviar!’  As luck would have it, Peter Moody, the trainer of Black Caviar, came over and had photos and a chat with me. I had met Peter during my work in the industry, it was so good to see him and so many other people I keep in touch with but don’t get to see as often.  It had been a huge day. I was exhausted and ready for home. Greg enjoyed the day immensely, but was also ready for home. As we were leaving we were approached by a lovely gentleman Troy, he came up to compliment me on the Caviar wheels, he said the jockey of Black Caviar would be only too pleased to sign them, I couldn’t believe it. Luke Nolen came over and signed the wheels, they then talked to me about MS, I was wearing my Kiss Goodbye to MS t-shirt that day which certainly gained attention and awareness of the disease. We had photos taken with  Luke and I can’t say enough about the professional unit Peter Moody Racing is, they are all so obliging and kind. Never in my wildest dreams did I think the last 2 weeks would turn out to be some of the most treasured memories I will keep close forever.

Black Caviar helped me gain the confidence to attend race meetings again, take my photos, and be around the many friends I cherish at the track.  No, life isn’t the same as it was over 3 years ago, PPMS is a disease with many hardships and day to day tasks are becoming harder. I have no illusions, life won’t get easier, there are hard times ahead but I will endeavour to live each day to the fullest. We don’t have to venture far to see those who are facing greater challenges. Never lose hope. Although there are some days I am not physically able to achieve goals, the tiniest task conquered is an achievement! Stay positive, cry when you need, smile a lot. Surround yourself with those who love you and let them know you love them too! Sometimes it is too easy to forget who is suffering most – the loved ones around us face our challenges as we do, they too are sad within. I have the best husband and children, and I am thankful everyday – they are my rock!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for including Carolyn's moving story on your blog. The inspiration and joy she felt from being at the track and meeting Black Caviar are palpable. Love the wheels! Best wishes to Carolyn and her family.