Lambourn (United Kingdom) (AFP) – George Baker’s riding career came to an abrupt end when he suffered a life-changing fall while racing across a frozen Swiss lake. Three years on he is training to run the London Marathon.
The former jockey is raising money for the Injured Jockeys Fund (IJF), which helped him get back on his feet after his horrific accident, and the charity Racing Welfare.
He is using the gym facilities at Oaksey House in Lambourn, southern England, which is one of the IJF’s three rehabilitation centres, to train for next month’s marathon.
The Englishman’s career was thriving when, at the age of 34, he took to the ice at the ski resort of St Moritz in February 2017.
In 2016 he had passed 100 winners in a season for the fourth successive year, ridden Harbour Law to win the English St Leger, and his first child Isabella had been born.
But his career was brought to a juddering halt when his mount, Boomerang Bob, put his leg through the ice on the lake, throwing him off. The horse was subsequently put down.
The IJF covered Baker’s costs, including flying his wife Nicola over to be by his bedside in Chur when he was initially put into an induced coma.
The charity was the brainchild of founding trustee and past-president John Oaksey and was established following devastating injuries to Tim Brookshaw in December 1963 and, four months later, Paddy Farrell in the Grand National.
Since then the IJF, which costs £4 million ($5 million) a year to run, has helped more than 1,000 jockeys and their families.
Baker credits the Fund with helping him lead a normal and happy life after his brain injury.
“I know that tackling a marathon is a challenge for everyone, but as my balance is not what it was, I have had to learn to walk and run again,” he said.
He needed months of recuperation after his accident, struggling with balance, coordination and walking.
He also suffered from post-traumatic amnesia (PTA) for six weeks.
“It was frustrating but then when you look back on it now, at least I had the option to be able to learn to do it (walk) again,” he told AFP before a session in the gym at Oaksey House.
“As Nicola said, I was like a 34-year-old baby learning to walk again. I’ve met people in hospital that had had bleeds in the brain and they didn’t know who their family were.
“So that would be a lot harder thing to deal with.”
– ‘Laughing so much’ –
He said one bizarre effect of PTA was that all of a sudden he was speaking German, “a language I had never spoken before”, with his non-English speaking nurse and singing rap songs for the first time by Tupac Shakur and Stormzy.
There were other odd consequences too.
“I thought I was very wealthy, so I wanted to tip everyone,” he said. “So even when I landed on the medical jet into London I said ‘Ah give the pilot a couple of hundred quid (pounds) Nicola’.”
Baker had to undergo five therapy sessions a day for several weeks at a London hospital.
Intensive rehab at Oaksey House included basics such as teaching him how to put a kettle on to exercising in the state-of-the-art gym and hydrotherapy.
Three years on he has regained his mobility, his driving licence, is a well-respected TV pundit on racing and has had a son, Charlie.
His ability to look at the positives and with humour helped when Nicola was driving him to see the doctor who would bring the curtain down on his career in October 2017.
“I start crying and I remember there is a banana in the glove compartment,” he recalled.
“I said ‘it is awful (not being able to race again) but at least now I can eat something’ and Nicola nearly crashed the car, she was laughing so much.”
Just as Oaksey House helped Baker regain his fitness, so now it has come to the aid of his father as he recovers from a stroke he suffered in 2018.
“It’s quite humbling at times what they (the IJF) do for people,” said Baker junior. “It’s a massive family and they look after their own really, really well.”