Talking With Chuck

Posted on August 23, 2010


I was 19 and caring for my beloved Best Of Dani in California when Chuck Sylvester first won the Hambletonian. A bunch of us were in a Sacramento Fudruckers that first August Saturday of 1987, watching the race on TV when Mack Lobell cruised in what was an astounding 1:53.3 effort. Never had I seen a trotter go so fast.

I didn’t know much about Chuck at that point, just that he was a great trainer with great horses. I’ve got to know him a lot better in recent years, and I saw him win Hambos he expected (Muscles Yankee) and Hambos he didn’t (Chip Chip Hooray). I interviewed him numerous times in victory and defeat.

And last year I was asked to by Chuck and his family–via John D. Campbell–to break the news that his son, Troy, had first been in a horrible accident and, on Aug. 8, that he had died.

My heart broke for Chuck on that day, as I could only imagine the heartache he was going through–and would face for the rest of his life. Late last year we talked about it in an interview I did for a March Hoof Beats feature on Lucky Chucky, Chuck’s Hambo hope for 2010 and surely the sentimental favorite for all. I could tell then he was a man who had aged a lifetime in only a few months, who was still shell shocked by the circumstances no parent should have to face. (Click here for that story.)

Today Chuck and I spoke again for a Canadian Sportsman feature that will run in a few weeks. Lucky Chucky was runner up in the Hambo, but Sunday he romped in the Colonial at Chester, and all was as right as it could be in the Sylvester world. But and it was no less difficult to ask him to share painful memories and reflect on the course his life has taken from one August to the next.

Once again Chuck was open and honest, funny and warm, reflective and insightful. He also dropped a few hints that this might be the end of the Chuck Sylvester stable as we know it, as he and his wife Sharon plan to spend more time next summer traveling and with their kids and grandkids. Life, he explained, really is too short.

It is a message I learned for myself when my husband Brian was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2008, and one we try to live by every day.

As I hung up the phone with Chuck, I couldn’t help but admire how far he had come in the face of a truly incomprehensible challenge, and I so appreciated his need to make the most of whatever time we all have left. It occurred to me how much happier all of our lives would be if we could learn this lesson before tragedy strikes, or before life altering catastrophes make us adjust to a new normal.

I can tell you I plan to live and love like time is precious and we have none to waste because, you know what–we don’t.

Posted in: Racing