IF YOU want to know about bad luck, broken bones and/or life-threatening illnesses, just ask Tahlia Hope.
At 21, the apprentice jockey has overcome more challenges than some may experience in their entire career.
In her three years in the saddle, the Seymour hoop has managed to break her ankle, collarbones and ribs and still sets off airport security alarms because of the not-so-small plate and nine screws in her ankle.
But this time, Tahlia decided to go for broke and contracted viral meningitis – the one you can’t really treat, you just have to survive.
And at times, she didn’t think she would.
An infection and swelling on the brain only compounded her problems.
Not that you would have realised any of that if you had watched her comeback at Werribee on Saturday, where she was booked by long-time supporter Paddy Payne and duly saluted the judge on the well-backed Zed Em.
It was more a relief than a celebration for the feisty Seymour rider who even after several weeks in hospital went home with a drip still feeding directly into her heart so a nurse paying her daily visits had easy access for more infusions.
“Overcoming viral meningitis is the hardest thing I’ve had to do,” Tahlia said.
“There was a time when I thought I wouldn’t be able to ride again. Once the weight started to stack on, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to lose it, I’m so glad I was able to.
“Before the race I was nervous, which was actually very different for me. But once I got on him, I was very calm.
“The original plan was to ride on Sunday at Echuca but on Thursday afternoon, Paddy asked if I was willing to go down to Werribee and I’m certainly glad I did.
“Just being able to cross the line was a massive relief, getting the win was a bonus.”
Saturday’s win continued a remarkable trend for Tahlia, who happens to have the best of luck when she does return from an enforced break.
“I seem to ride a winner in my first race every time I do come back,” she said.
“When you are sitting on the sidelines it is difficult to watch because you want to be out there.
“Racing has been part of my life since I was born, so it is everything that I know.
“I’m so thankful to everyone who has supported me to get back to where I am.”
Even when Tahlia was unable to be in the saddle, you couldn’t keep her away from the track.
During her nine-month break, she found herself part of Payne’s travelling party.
“I was fortunate enough to go right across the country,” she said.
“I did some work as a strapper and I was enjoying that side of the sport. It was a great way for me to stay involved, but it just wasn’t the same as riding.
“When I was well enough, I eventually got back to doing some track work but being involved in a race was a big step forward.
“Paddy has been incredible for my career and I can’t thank him enough for the opportunities he has given me over the years.”
Since her ride on Saturday, Tahlia has quickly found herself back in the cut and thrust of the racing industry.
On Sunday, she raced at Echuca before travelling to Ballarat on Monday.
But her rapid rise back to the top will be completed on Wednesday when she rides at Sandown.
“I can’t believe how quickly it has happened,” she said.
“Getting my metro claim is something I want to achieve as soon as possible. If I can do that it will mean I’m a senior jockey.
“And that’s crazy to think when I’m only in the early stages of my career.
“Riding in Melbourne is the best way to improve my skills and I’m looking forward to the challenge.
“Hopefully I can bring home a winner for the stable.”
While Tahlia is focused on each meeting as they come, she does have a much bigger goal in mind – finishing her apprenticeship.
“I’m hoping to get an extension until next year because of everything I’ve gone through,” she said.
“Being able to get across that finish line will do a lot of good for my confidence.”
During her career, Tahlia has suffered countless falls as a jockey.
But arguably none were scarier than when she fell during a race at Wangaratta in May 2018 – leaving her with a broken collarbone and bruised lung.
“That fall is the one which probably shook me up the most,” she said.
“I thought it was going to have a negative effect on my career because I was putting the weight on so quickly.
“But I was fortunate to get back to riding weight pretty quickly.”
Like many other sports around the world, racing could soon be brought to a grinding halt because of the coronavirus pandemic.
But Tahlia said Racing Victoria deserved a lot of credit for how it has handled the situation to date.
“We’re very lucky to still be racing,” she said.
“It has been crazy just how quickly everything has changed in the world. Racing Victoria is doing everything to protect us, which has been great.
“Hopefully we can get back to racing in front of crowds as soon as possible.”