Accident can’t break jockey’s spirit

Published: May 16, 2004
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Marta Loveland is recovering from injury at Les Bois

CALDWELL — Marta Loveland’s racing career is over, but she longs for the day when she can ride another horse, or take a simple walk down the road.

On July 20, 2003, the veteran jockey was aboard Ima Classic Diamond during the second race of the afternoon at Les Bois Park. At some point in the 300-yard sprint, the horse broke its shoulder, then crumbled, driving Loveland into the ground with excessive force. She broke her neck, spinal cord and several bones in her ribcage. The spinal cord injury paralyzed her from the chest down.

The accident ended a 31-year racing career for Loveland, 49, who was weaned in the sport as a chariot racer at Les Bois. Her friend Ginger Welch died from a fall at Les Bois in 2000.

Today, the deeply spiritual Loveland channels all of her physical and mental energy, faith and spirit toward getting back on her feet again. She is confined to a wheelchair, but in the 10 months since the accident, she has regained feeling in her abdominal muscles, back and hips.

Her sense of humor and engaging personality have never wavered. She even plans to ride a horse by the end of the summer.
“I expect to walk again,” she said. “I don’t know how long it will take, but I just think you have to have faith and perseverance, and you just keep working on any little thing you can get.”

Longtime Les Bois jockey Berkley Packer doesn’t doubt her will one bit.

“I have total faith in her. I’m sure she’ll try ’til the bitter end,” said Packer, who has known Loveland for about 15 years. “If she says she’ll walk, she’ll give it hell, that’s for sure.”
Long road back

On the day of the accident, Loveland was rushed to Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise. She had surgery the following day to set the bones in her back, then spent the next 21/2 weeks breathing with the aid of a respirator.
She stayed at Saint Al’s for 75 days, well short of the three or four months doctors predicted.

Loveland wasn’t racing when poor track conditions forced Les Bois to suspend races June 29, but she did have concerns about the deteriorating surface. Improvements were made before her accident, and she doesn’t blame Les Bois for what happened. Before this racing season opened two weeks ago, Les Bois spent $175,000 to repair the track.

Loveland hasn’t watched any races at the track since the accident, but plans on going there this summer. She doesn’t talk about the accident and doesn’t want anyone to take her picture.
“I don’t have bad feelings about horse racing. I wish I wouldn’t have gotten hurt, obviously,” she said. “But if I said I hated it now, then that would say I hated the last 30 years of my life, and I didn’t. That would be a lie.”

When Loveland was able to breathe on her own, she began Rehabilitation almost immediately. At first, she had no feeling in her hands and couldn’t lift her left arm above her head.
Les Bois jockey Reino Tavarez, who has known Loveland for about eight years, visited her twice in the hospital and came away with a sense that she would do everything in her power to walk some day.

“She was talking up a storm, real happy,” Tavarez said. “She’s a fighter. She’s funny and friendly, good people.”

During her hospital stay, Loveland discovered the power of the human spirit.
“I had to learn to have patience. But when you’re so flat on your back like that, you learn to appreciate everything anybody does for you,” she said.

When she arrived at her home near Middleton, Loveland couldn’t perform everyday tasks that able-bodied people might take for granted. She couldn’t feed herself, bathe herself, dress herself, sweep the floor, do the laundry. She needed help with everything.
For the feisty and strong-willed Loveland, it was beyond frustrating. But her husband, Jerry, and daughter, Loni, have been at her side every step of the way.

Jerry, a foreman at Amalgamated Sugar, has stopped training horses since the accident. Loni is about to graduate from Middleton High. Last weekend, she won a 3A District Three title in the shot put, and plans to play volleyball at Northwest Nazarene next year.

Marta spends time reading the Bible and other books of inspiration. She researches various methods of treating spinal cord injuries, e-mails friends and talks on the phone. She is able to do the laundry, sweep the floor, dump the cat litter — all the things that eluded her when she first came home.
And now that the weather is getting warmer, she may go outside and admire the horses on the land that surrounds her country home between Caldwell and Middleton, or play with the dogs.

For one hour each day on the back patio, Loveland fastens a pair of long braces to her legs and uses her arms to push herself up and down a set of parallel bars built by family friend Dr. Jay Green of Green Veterinary Clinic in Eagle.