Kathy Ritvo gets chance of a lifetime
Updated: May 6, 2011, 2:14 PM ETBy Pat Forde | ESPN.com
Horsephotos.comMucho Macho Man works for Saturday's 137th Kentucky Derby.LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- On the worst nights, Kathy Ritvo would lie in bed and cry while her family rubbed her back. Her feet and legs ached. She'd been coughing constantly for 18 months, to the point that normal conversation was a labor. Her heart was quitting. Her will was weakening. On those haunting nights in 2008, she didn't want to fall asleep. She feared that she would never wake up.
“"People would ask, 'How are you doing?'" Ritvo recalled. "I didn't know how to answer that. You're either waiting to die or waiting to live." Sleep will not come easily Friday night, either, for much happier reasons. A rejuvenated Ritvo is waiting to live out a thoroughbred trainer's wildest dream -- she will saddle a horse Saturday in the 137th Kentucky Derby. Mucho Macho Man, whose presence is a miracle in its own right, has brought her to Churchill Downs. The horse's nickname as a foal was Lazarus, having risen from a seeming stillbirth three years ago at Rose Grove Farm in Ocala, Fla. It could apply to his trainer, too. "I just have a really deep sense," said breeder Carole Rio, who helped coax Mucho Macho Man to life, "that he was meant for Kathy Ritvo."
People would ask, 'How are you doing?' I didn't know how to answer that. You're either waiting to die or waiting to live.” -- Trainer Kathy Ritvo
A remarkable triumph of medicine and will got Kathy to this point. But really, this is a moment she has spent her whole life working toward. As a girl growing up outside of Boston, she had five dogs. She got her training start with them. "She would line them up," her mother said. "She would make them sit, make them stand, make them do this and do that." When Kathy wasn't in school or playing with the dogs, she was at the racetrack with the rest of her family. After working as a barber and owning laundromats, her father, Peter, followed his heart and bought a racetrack. It became the family business. Brother Michael helped train the horses. Brothers Nick and Louis were jockeys. And little Kathy tagged along and worked around the barn, doing anything and everything. "We came to the barn together in the mornings," Kathy said. "We stayed in the barn and worked, then we got in the car and went home." It surprised no one, then, when Kathy got her training license on her 18th birthday. After marrying Tim Ritvo, she trained a division out of his stable and won 149 races in 1990-98, before her health forced her to abandon full-time training. For the next decade, every day was a progressively more difficult struggle. All the hopes of watching her kids grow up and watching her horses run were jeopardized. "All you have to do to make God laugh," Tim Ritvo said, "is to tell Him you have a plan."
Horsephotos.comKathy Ritvo had heart transplant surgery in November 2008.
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