Updated: Nov 18, 2019
2015 Melbourne Cup
Michelle Payne in suffragette colours of green, white and purple.
My international readers may not be aware of Australia’s greatest horse race, November’s Melbourne Cup. It’s just one race, but it seems that the whole of Australia stops to watch it. People who never bet any other time of the year will take a bet on this race and places of work all across the nation run sweepstakes, even taking the afternoon off work. Women tottering around in high heels and fluffy little hats can be seen on their way to events with their girlfriends to yell out encouragement to their horse, and the pubs are full of loud, cheering people who took the day off work to watch the Cup.
Regardless of your opinion on the matter of horse races, something amazing happened this year, for the first time in the 155 years of Cup history.
A woman won.
That would be encouraging enough, but the back story is even more fantastic. Jockey Michelle Payne is the youngest of 10 children in a horse racing family. Her mother died when she was 6 months old and her family struggled financially all through her growing up. Michelle was brought up largely by two older sisters who were also jockeys. The family went to church every Sunday and Michelle recalls that her dad consistently told her how much he had loved her mum.
The first time Michelle dreamed of winning the Melbourne Cup was 25 years ago, when she was 5 years old. When she was 7 and her schoolmates were talking about what they wanted to do with their lives, they mocked her determination to do just what she did yesterday.
Her journey has taken her through multiple serious falls incurring brain injury, fractured vertebrae, broken ribs and many scars, along with all the hard work to keep her weight at optimum levels. As time went on even her dad, who had always told her never to give up, was imploring her to retire from horse racing for her own safety, but this girl was nothing if not determined. She could see it, she could smell it, she could just about taste it and she was determined to show that horse racing wasn’t just a sport for the boys.
Her horse is just as unlikely a winner. An unknown horse bought by a consortium of 5 guys who each threw in $10,000, bets on Prince of Penzance were 101/1, reflecting the general scorn with which the racing world viewed both horse and rider. Topping it all off, Michelle’s strapper was her older brother, Stevie, who has Downs Syndrome.
Yet such was her focused determination, the night before the race Michelle was thinking through what she would say to the TV reporters when she won. You can check the story out here.
I love to hear of people who don’t take NO for an answer. I love hearing about women who rise above the challenges, the limitations, the disparagement of a world that isn’t interested in them, and which demeans and mocks their efforts when they do begin to rise.
But it’s important to remember that the joy of the prize doesn’t just go just to the women who actually win the prize, but to all those other who maybe didn’t win a tangible object, but who, like Michelle’s older sisters Maree and Therese, both very good jockeys in their own rights, have used their energy, their vision and courage to break through the barriers for the little sisters who come after them.
When you have a big picture vision, the one-off win isn’t the goal, awesome though it may be. The triumph is in the journey, the determination to break every barrier so that those who follow can have a fantastic finish.
Many more people than William Wilberforce worked for the ending of the slave trade. Some of them never got to see the impact their lives had, but because of them laws were changed and people were freed. They may not have personally experienced the breakthrough, but because of them, breakthrough came.
I’m encouraged by the suffragettes, women and men also who broke cultural taboos in nations all across the world to demand that women be given the right to vote for who would govern them.
I love to hear about women like the 5 daughters of Zelophehad whose story you can read in Numbers 27, who, through their hard work, courage and determination to not take NO for an answer, succeeded in having the law changed for single Hebrew women inheriting property from that point on.
There are many people who, like Esther and Abigail, are fully aware that the odds are against them but they have the capacity and the vision to see beyond the obstacles to know that God is for them. And if God is for you… tell me, who the heck is anyone else to try to make you stay in the box.