It’s not the ride he wanted to take to Churchill Downs, but Dan Hendricks isn’t fussing over his legs.
The ride to a blanket of roses Saturday will be on the legs of Brother Derek. The 3-year-old thoroughbred’s speed on the racetrack is inspiring the 47-year- old trainer to run his own race— back to feeling whole again.
“It’s just very frustrating to be in a chair, I don’t hide that fact,” says Hendricks, who is paralyzed from the waist down. “There’s depression and I can’t stand it, but it is what it is and I just have to go on.”
The trainer’s long recovery from a paralyzing motocross accident two years ago didn’t really start until he bought the carrot eating colt for a Canadian businessman who says Dan’s chair, outfitted with special wheels, was never an issue.
“The only time I notice it is if I can’t keep up to him and he tells me to get out of the way or he’ll run right over me,” says Brother Derek’s owner Cecil Peacock.
Hendricks is too busy to go slow. He’s training 25 horses now in California.
And as much as he wants the focus on Brother Derek—a 3 to 1 favorite— Hendricks knows part of the derby storyline is him. This extends far beyond barn 42 in Kentucky.
“Having a positive role model is extremely important for many of the individuals who sustain these types of injuries,” says Dr. David Chen of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
For Dan Hendricks, the race called the “most exciting two minutes in sport” will be a chance to give reality a swift kick, dream about being a derby winner, and forget about being in a chair... even if it’s only for two minutes.