Persistence is defined as the continuance of an effect after the cause of it has stopped; determination as the act of making a decision or being set in purpose. Both of these words had special meaning for me the last few weeks. If you watched this year’s Kentucky Derby, the clear favorite, California Chrome won easily. While I am far from a horse racing enthusiast, I am always interested in the human-interest stories surrounding the event and this year didn’t disappoint. The story that caught my attention was about California Chrome’s trainer who at the age of 77 was the oldest trainer to win a Kentucky Derby. While most people at 77 are enjoying their retirement, Art Sherman was still pursuing his dream, still determined to take California Chrome to the winner’s circle at the Kentucky Derby. Sherman was a jockey for 23 years before becoming a trainer in 1980 and went to the Derby only one other time in 1955 as a teenage exercise rider. He never “had the big stables or the big money people behind (him),” so the odds were not in his favor, but still he persisted and the results speak for themselves.
What is the difference between Art Sherman and the vast majority of people who give up long before they succeed? The day after the Derby I thought about this as I hiked through a reservation near my home. I came upon a fallen tree that caught my attention. There are many downed trees in this area from the last two brutal winters and I am accustomed to seeing them on my walks, but this tree didn’t seem to know it had fallen. One end of the tree had been cut by a chain saw to keep it off the trail and the other end was completely out of the ground. Yet there were many branches coming out of the tree with leaves sprouting. There must have been one root that was still in the ground taking water and nutrients from the earth and making this tree believe it was still growing, still in the ground doing what it did naturally every spring.
Neither Art Sherman nor the fallen tree had “gotten the message” that their quest was over. Neither of them as Dylan Thomas said would “go gentle into that good night.” When Sherman was asked why he hasn’t retired he said, “It’s not in my vocabulary, that word ‘retirement,’ I love the action. I like the challenge of coming up with a good horse…It gives you something to look forward to.” The tree was much simpler. If water went through a root and fed the tree, if there was sunlight and nourishment, the tree did what it was designed to do, IT SPROUTED. It will never stand up again and never by most standards be a tree, but tell that to the beautiful branches filled with leaves reaching for the sky.