Harnessing the Ties That Bind

Posted on February 15, 2011

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I left my life in horse racing behind when I quit working at the United States Trotting Association and joined the community that is Ohio State University.

But thank goodness my horse racing life didn’t leave me.

On Monday in my magazine writing class, we had a video conference visit from Charles Leerhsen, who has had the type of career my students–and me–could only dream. Writer for Newsweek and People. Founding editor of Us Weekly and executive editor at Sports Illustrated. Author of books with Chuck Yeager and Donald Trump. Author of the marvelous story of Dan Patch entitled, “Crazy Good.” Just publishing a book on the first Indianapolis 500 and working on another on Ty Cobb.

Charlie shared great insights with my students on what makes successful queries, how to best conduct interviews and how to find story ideas. He told us of talking his way into Wayne Gretzky’s apartment while on assignment for Newsweek by simply not taking “no” for an answer. He was funny and charming, insightful and honest. He inspired, encouraged and maybe even intimidated them a bit–all things he has done for me every day since we met six years earlier.

Charlie and I met through harness racing. He used to work for Hoof Beats, before moving on to far bigger and better, and he still loves the sport. Through that mutual affection, I became good friends with hIm and his talented and beautiful wife, Sarah (whose own memoir, Ithaka, is simply fantastic). We have dinner whenever I find myself in New York and plan to hook up with he and Sarah at the Indy 500 this May. I was lucky enough to read “Crazy Good” before it even hit bookshelves, and joined Charlie on the book signing tour in 2008 with my own literary offering, “100 Years in Harness” (for which Charlie gave a back-cover testimonial).

Charlie is just the latest of my racing friends to share their expertise with my students. Bill Finley of the New York Times and ESPN visited last quarter, along with Andrew Cohen, legal analyst for CBS News. My former co-worker T.J. Burkett helps my students with internships that no doubt will help their future careers. I’m hoping to pull my good friend Dan Plesac, former Major League pitcher and current MLB Network broadcaster into a class and who knows who else.

I left horse racing for many reasons–most significantly because the opportunity to join Ohio State was too wonderful to pass up. But horse racing will never leave me.

And I hope my friends won’t either.

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Posted in: General, Journalism