Gavel / Kayla keeps overriding the odds

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Jockey Kayla Nisbet… Her return to the winner’s circle on Black Opal Stakes day in Canberra earlier this year has been the catalyst to getting more rides. Photo by Andrew Campbell

KAYLA Nisbet’s story of overcoming the odds to pursue her dream of becoming a champion jockey should be mandatory reading for young people who are often labelled as a generation unprepared to do the hard work to achieve their goals.

Twenty-two-year-old Kayla, the daughter of Canberra racing legend John, suffered an epileptic seizure in June last year. NSW Racing initially told her she couldn’t ride for six months, which extended to nine months.

Tim Gavel.

It was heartbreaking given the battles she had already overcome to stay in the sport. In 2014 she broke her foot and wrist and was out of the saddle for five months, she returned only to break her leg and was out for another three months. During her rehabilitation she battled to maintain her riding weight, thus another hurdle and another reason to give up; not that it didn’t cross her mind. The desire to continue was stronger.

Undaunted, Kayla fought her way back to secure an impressive book of rides only to be hit with further time away from riding as she underwent a series of tests to determine what triggered her seizure last year.

She says it’s possibly a combination of fatigue and a car accident when she was four years old in which she suffered a fractured skull.

Kayla says she is on medication, managing her fatigue and back in the saddle.

If ever you needed proof that the racing industry is one big family this was it. Inspired by the support from her family and the wider racing community she was more determined than ever to stay in the sport.

Her return to the winner’s circle on Black Opal Stakes day in Canberra earlier this year on board the Barbara Joseph-trained Mercurial Lad has been the catalyst to getting more rides.

It was a major breakthrough. There may have been doubts in the minds of some but the ride proved that Kayla was capable of getting back to where she was in the middle of last year.

Given the struggles to get herself physically and mentally right to race again, she says the victory on Black Opal day remains one of her favourites; it felt like her first winner.

Kayla says the whole experience has made her a better, more determined rider.

This is often the response from elite athletes when faced with the prospect of a career finishing earlier than planned.

It is why we rejoice in athletes overcoming the odds to achieve success; Michael Milton is one who readily comes to mind. We are currently seeing it with Christian Lealiifano and his return to rugby after being diagnosed with leukaemia 11 months ago. 

If nothing else, it provides inspiration to us all and for which the likes of Kayla, Michael and Christian should be lauded. Their stories remind us of the importance of resilience and determination; two human qualities that have been admired throughout history and hopefully will be qualities that will be celebrated in the generations to come.

Jockey Kayla Nisbet. Photo by Andrew Campbell

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Tim Gavel
Journalist and ABC sports broadcaster

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