Failure Not An Option

By Scott Davis
In all professions, and Turf writing is no exception, there are those days in which going to work is a chore. We bemoan the most minor inconveniences and generally treat our daily routines with all the joy of a root canal.

When I find myself acting like that, I remember Glen Gallivan.

"Glenners," as he was known, died Sept. 30 at the age of 30--some 28 years longer than was expected. He was born with spinal muscular atrophy, an especially debilitating form of muscular dystrophy. He spent his entire life in a wheelchair, and his only source of independent mobility was his left index finger, which he could move 10 centimeters. Glen used a voice-recognition program to operate a computer and to communicate, and required a portable ventilator to breathe for his final two years. Yet, he never complained and never considered himself handicapped. "You have to play the cards you are dealt with," he said. "Without trying to sound like a cliché, failure is not an option."

Glen put that motivation to excellent use as a racing writer and handicapper, combining a love of horses with a keen mind and the instincts of a sharp statistician to produce a daily tip sheet called "Glenners Picks." He also worked calculating Beyer Speed Figures and was employed by the publishing arm of the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association. "People who didn't know him would at first see only his disabilities, but as soon as he opened his mouth he earned the same respect as anyone else," said his mother, Patti Hackett.

Probably more, since Glen was entirely devoted to racing ever since the day in 1985 when a relative took him to the track for the first time. He won $150 on the first race he saw and spent the rest of his life carrying an autographed copy of Beyer on Speed--dog-eared almost beyond recognition--in his wheelchair wherever he went.

Glen showed the same remarkable determination in becoming a racing journalist. While attending Churchill Downs' annual journalism seminar for college students, he discovered his dentist was friendly with the owner of a local radio station and scheduled a dental cleaning with the hopes of arranging an introduction. He got it, and was the on-site reporter for the 1997 and 1998 Kentucky Derbys--without pay--for Gainesville, Fla., radio station WRUF. A member of the National Turf Writers Association, Glen was also made an honorary Kentucky Colonel for his work.

In the fall of 2001, Glen was hospitalized for an extended period with respiratory disease. His room at the University of Florida Medical Center in Gainesville, in addition to the usual hospital paraphernalia, was strewn with race programs, souvenirs from racetracks, and, in a place of prime distinction, a large photograph of his favorite horse, Holy Bull. As usual, Glen quickly dispensed with small talk about his health and regaled a visitor with the details of his latest score: a triple-digit exacta he hit the day prior at Calder.

Upon leaving the hospital, Glen and Patti piled their belongings into a 1995 Chevy van and visited dozens of tracks up and down the East Coast, even stopping at Darley at Jonabell Farm last July to pay a visit to Holy Bull.

One of his more recent highlights came last spring when Florida breeders Scott and Diane Dudley named a yearling Glenners. "Glen was such an inspiration," said Diane Dudley, who first met Glen--appropriately enough--while handicapping a race. "He could just throw in the towel but he never did. He carried himself with such a positive attitude."

Glen was no saint, to be sure. He bemoaned his losing wagers with the best of them and, in the true parlance of horseplayers everywhere, issued profanity-filled diatribes against jockeys who beat him out of cashing a ticket. What he was, though, was an individual who refused to see any obstacle as daunting and rejected any notion of a handicap too great to overcome. All he wanted was to be a regular schlub amongst the schlubs who sit in the racetrack press boxes day in and day out and pass the time with a few laughs, some good stories, and, if they're lucky, a winning bet or two.

For Glen, that was pure joy. It should be for all of us, too.

SCOTT DAVIS is the Florida correspondent for The Blood-Horse.