Commentary

How the Baby Derby was won

Originally Published: March 28, 2011
By Matt Lindner | Special to Page 2

ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Some racers get into their sport of choice for the glory. Others, for the fame.

But those closest to Nathan Gilbert say he's motivated by something else.

"It was that remote controller, man," said his father Isaiah. "That little car I bought him, he loves that thing."

Ten-month-old Nathan crawled his way to glory in front of more than 11,000 screaming hockey fans during the Chicago Wolves' 13th annual Baby Derby on Sunday afternoon, on a mat at center ice.

The event pits five infants against one another during intermission of the American Hockey League game, with bragging rights and a trip to the Eagle Ridge Resort in Galena, Ill., on the line.

"The early start is typically the way to go for this," said Courtney Mahoney, the Wolves' senior vice president of operations. "If you don't get a good start, you're not going to do it. That seems to be the way to go."

Of course, when Wolves announcer Wayne Messmer invited parents to "unleash the babies," the eventual winner appeared to want to stay, well, leashed.

While another infant crawled out to an early lead, Nathan went out a couple paces and then plopped down, turned around and faced his father for a brief moment.

"[The crowd noise] surprised him at first -- but he blocked it out, focused on Mommy and his new remote control car, and he was good to go," Isaiah said.

So how does one train an infant to attain racing immortality just 10 months into his existence?

According to the winner's proud father, the winning formula consists of three things.

"I'd say a little Gatorade and just straight-up heart," Isaiah said. "And a binky."

Other competitors tried different tactics.

"You have Mom in the kitchen and Dad in the dining room and you make a lot of noise," said Jeff Maki, whose son Travis was among Nathan's chief Derby rivals. "You try different things like binks [pacifiers] or puffs [food] and see what gets him motivated."

But binks and puffs are only part of the equation.

Mahoney says she's seen competitors over the years who came prepared but folded once the crowd got going.

"I think a lot of times the kids react to the crowd; a lot of times they'll start and the crowd starts cheering and then they stop and start crying," she said. "It's a pressure situation. These babies need to be ready for that, and those that are seem to be the most successful."

And while young Nathan Gilbert is too young to remember his first winning race, his parents say they'll be sure to remind him of it when he gets older.

Frequently.

"We'll be torturing him with the video for the rest of his life, I can guarantee that," Kristy said, laughing. "We'll be showing it on his wedding day."

Matt Lindner is a freelance writer for Sports Media Exchange, a national freelance writing network.

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