Jockey Eating Disorders
Superstar jockey Shane Sellers seemed to have it all: turning pro in the sport – horse racing – he loved so much as kid, winning over 4,000 races and $122 million in purses and finding a soul mate in his wife Kelli. But as candidly revealed in his “rags to riches to rags” autobiography, “Freedom’s Rein,” Sellers’ demons from an abusive childhood haunted his personal and professional life to the point of a near overdose death and a brief banishment from the sport.
As documented by author Tricia Psarreas, Sellers used “The Sport of Kings” to escape the grasp of an alcoholic father and quickly found another family in his fellow jockeys, who showed him the ropes and passed down extreme tips to make outdated weight requirements. Sellers recalls, “We would starve, eat, heave, sweat and then try to control an animal that weighs ten times what we did.”
According to Sellers, the daily ritual for most jockeys would be to avoid eating to meet industry requirements (often a 112 pound maximum). If that wasn’t good enough, in order to mount and have the possibility to earn money, slightly “overweight” jockeys would then resort to “pulling weight,” sitting in “hot boxes” (intense saunas) for hours at a time to sweat off extra pounds. “Flipping” (bulimia) was so common that most tracks had special toilets (heaving bowls) installed in the jocks’ lounge to keep the pipes from clogging.
“The industry had to be aware of what was going on because there were signs on the walls saying we’d be fined if we were caught heaving in the wrong type of bowl,” remembers Sellers.
Why go through all that pain? “Because once you are in the game, the game is in you,” answers Sellers. “I am not just a former jockey; I am the games biggest fan.” That, coupled with the untimely deaths of jockeys trying to make weight, is why he’s advocated for change concerning the industry’s rules on endorsements, weight limits and on-track insurance.
“The lengths others and I have gone through to mount and possibly earn fifty dollars, while having little to no protections insurance-wise for ourselves and our families, are unacceptable,” Sellers powerfully contends. “No more jockeys should have to die for the chance to ride.” His activism has been successful, but came with a price.
In addition to a temporary banishment from Churchill Downs’ tracks, unresolved anger issues stemming from his childhood almost cost Sellers his family and life. A near overdose on the very day of actor Heath Ledger’s death resulted in Sellers entering rehab. His anger issues also forced him to work hard to fix his fractured marriage. Psarreas, “Freedom’s Rein” co-author, says Sellers’ story isn’t just about horse racing because he openly shares tales of domestic abuse, battles with addiction and the heartbreak of trying to maintain a marriage while in the midst of a mental breakdown.
Despite the rollercoaster career, Sellers still maintains, “Horse racing is a magnificent sport and with a few adjustments, it could be perfect.” He is calling for unity, “If anybody wants to make changes in order for the whole industry to flourish, they have to work together.” But as Sellers knows, the initial step toward fixing a problem is first admitting that there is one – even if it means exposing the dirtiest of secrets.
About Shane Sellers
Shane Sellers started riding horses at the age of 11 and became a professional jockey by the time he was 16. Over the course of his career, Sellers won over 4,000 races and over $122 million in purses. He was also the leading jockey advocate for issues like low jockey weights, endorsements and on-track insurance. Because of his activism, jockeys are now allowed to ride with endorsements, weight maximums have gone up a few pounds and the on-track insurance policy has increased from $100,000 to $1,000,000. Portions of Sellers’ story have also been seen in HBO’s controversial documentary, “Jockey.” He and his wife, Kelli, have three children together: Shali, Saban and Steiner. More information can be found online at www.FreedomsRein.com.
About Tricia Psarreas
Tricia Psarreas owns a successful freelance writing company called The Brighter Writer, and has clients from five different continents. While she has ghostwritten a number of books, “Freedom’s Rein” is her first book to feature her name on the cover.