A lesson in dedication from the sport of kings

Two years ago, jump jockey Brian Toomey died when he fell at Perth. Paramedics brought him back to life. This weekend he will ride at Southwell racecourse

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The Independent Online

Sport – even this self-confessed nut concedes – is hardly everything. True, had you been anywhere near the Camden Head in north London around tea-time on Friday, you would have been choking through air turned blue as one of Scotland’s exports vigorously, vainly, exhorted a rather more successful one to stick it to the Swiss master.

But there are times when sport holds lessons for us all. Andy Murray’s sober reflection on defeat – effectively, I played as well as I could, but Roger Federer was unplayable – reflects well on him. His reaction in the coming days will say even more.

Murray’s determination is always to improve, and to bounce back. He constantly aims to fill that half-empty glass, rejecting the half-full approach, a notion which the ambitious should never entertain. That tenacity, along with sport’s capacity to spring surprises and our capacity to empathise, combine to make competing what it is. It pulls at our emotions.

I can get quite tearful watching athletics, even – perhaps particularly – when the competitors are barely household names in their own homes. It’s something about young folk with everything in front of them – good-looking, fit and modest – determined to make the most of themselves.

I took my daughters to a Diamond League athletics meeting in Glasgow just before the Commonwealth Games. We knew little about who or what we were watching, but we were strangely touched by it.

In their enthusiasm, Ruby and Bella ran up to a Scottish high jumper, Jayne Nisbet, just after she had finished, fifth I think, out of six. They wanted a photo. Nisbet had suffered horrific injuries and an eating disorder, and she struggled on little money. She was to come 10th in the Commonwealth Games. But she was dedicated to being the best she could be. Not only was she lovely to daft wee girls, but what a fabulous role model.

And what about the real sports story of the weekend? Not at Wimbledon, or the Swalec Stadium, or even at St Andrews as it gears up for the Open. No, it plays out at Southwell racecourse.

Two years ago, jump jockey Brian Toomey died when he fell at Perth. Paramedics brought him back to life. As his brain swelled, a large section of his skull was removed, to be replaced by a metal plate. He spent 157 nights in hospital. Medical experts say his recovery is unprecedented.

On Sunday afternoon, he will clamber aboard Kings Grey for the 4.20. 

Hark at this: “I could have taken the career-ending insurance that was available to me but all I wanted to do was be a jockey. It’s my passion, it’s an addiction, and it’s been my dream since I was a boy to be a jockey – it’s a job and a life I love.”

That, ladies and gentlemen, is sport for you. So place a hefty bet on Kings Grey, and let’s hear it for the Irishman. “Come on, Brian!”