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Friday, January 18, 2008

You Oughta Know #3: Sylvia Harris

by Symphony, WAOD Contributor

At the age of 40 Sylvia Harris won her first race at Hawthorne Park on December 1 of this year. She entered a sorority of female African American jockeys who have won a Thoroughbred race.

Harris' age isn't the only obstacle she overcame. How about the fact that she had never been on a horse until the age of 35. Her love of riding didn't develop five years before her historic win. As a young girl growing up in Sonoma County, California her love of horses blossomed.

Her parents discouraged her from a career in horse racing and she instead went on to college. After two years of school she had the first of her three children and was forced to support a family as a single mother.

The next twenty years were anything but easy. She spent her time between Virginia and Florida where she bounced from low wage job to low wage job and eventually found herself on welfare. Harris attributed many of her problems to her bipolar disorder. She was diagnosed at the age of 19. It made it hard for her to provide for herself and her family.

1999 was rock bottom. Harris was homeless in Orlando. "I was homeless for two months," Harris said. "I lived out of my car. It was awful. For the first time I didn’t have any family around me. I just didn’t care anymore. Really, the only thing I cared about was who was serving lunch at the nearest soup kitchen."

In 2005, on her way to Canada, she ran out of money and was stranded in Chicago. She met a trainer and eventually got her shot as a jockey when she was introduced to another trainer.

One of the mounts that Harris got was Wildwood Pegasus. On Nov. 7, she guided the 4–year-old gelding to a third-place finish. Wildwood Pegasus had been winless in seven starts since his new owner claimed him in May.

Less than a month later, on her 17th mount, Harris got her first win.

Read about pioneer Cheryl White who appeared on the cover of JET magazine in 1971.
Read about Shayla Wilson, an Olympic 2012 equestrian hopeful.
Read about Patricia Kelly and Ebony Horsewomen, Inc.

SonRise is a Calif-based nonprofit volunteer-based organization that makes a positive difference for children and youth who are challenged with social, emotional and or physical stress.