Reporter: Liz Hayes
Producer: David Alrich
We know Darren Beadman as a champion - a competitive dynamo of a man who's dominated the racing scene for decades.
Well the Darren you'll meet on Sunday night is nothing like the bloke we're used to seeing, fist raised and galloping past the winning post.
Certainly Liz was shocked when she first saw him.
Back in February, Darren suffered a bad fall during track work. You might have heard about it.
What you probably didn't realise is that the accident almost killed him and, for months now, every day has been a battle.
On Sunday night, Darren shares his story as he makes the toughest decision of his stellar career.
You can visit the National Jockeys' Trust at www.njt.org.au.
For more information on spinal and brain injury go to www.ispine.com.au.
PHOTOS: See more from behind the scenes here.
COMMENTATOR: Beadman throwing everything at Octagonal, he gets there. Yes! Octagonal wins the Darby!
STORY – LIZ HAYES: He was known as the Tom Cruise of racing, and for nearly 30 years he’s been one of Australia’s most successful jockeys.
COMMENTATOR: Saintly’s going to win the Cup for Darren Beadman and Bart Cummings!
LIZ HAYES: A professional athlete, whose rides won hundreds of millions of dollars in prize money. But one look at Darren Beadman today, and it’s clear this gifted sportsman is now facing the biggest challenge of his life.
LIZ HAYES: What are your symptoms?
DARREN: Ah, loss of balance. Um, my speech has improved a lot. I was slurring the words a lot and stuttering, and – um, after the injury. Um, this eyesight’s just weakened a bit. And a lot of dizziness and - and vertigo.
LIZ HAYES: In February this year, during a barrier trial in Hong Kong, Darren took a sickening fall when the horse he was riding snapped both its front legs.
DARREN: The horse broke down in its right - right front leg. And I tried to hold it up, and then the other one went - in front, the other leg. And I remember leaving the horse, but that - that’s basically it.
KIM: Mitch rang me.
LIZ HAYES: Your son?
LIZ HAYES: What did he say?
KIM: He actually rang, and said - I’m gonna cry, sorry.
LIZ HAYES: That’s ok.
KIM: He actually rang, and said, “Mum, Dad’s had a bad fall and he’s unconscious. I’m in the ambulance with him now and going to the hospital.”
LIZ HAYES: Did your heart sink when you got that call?
KIM: Oh yeah. I still find it hard to talk about.
LIZ HAYES: Darren’s wife Kim knew immediately her husband was in trouble.
KIM: I could hear it in his voice, and I knew his, this – you know, his ah, slurring of his speech, and just all of the little things that you - that you know, you observe.
LIZ HAYES: It was obvious Darren was unwell, but MRI scans revealed just how severe this fall was.
RICHARD: So here’s a picture of the MRI that was done a few days after your injury, and I can tell you the changes that you can see are subtle, but they’ve had a massive effect on you.
LIZ HAYES: Sydney neurosurgeon, Dr Richard Parkinson, says Darren has suffered what’s called a diffuse axonal injury - a significant brain trauma that will change his life.
RICHARD: It’s a massive impact on Darren and his life, there’s no question about that. And his - you know, his family, his relationships, everything that makes Darren what Darren is.
LIZ HAYES: So his walking, his talking, his thinking-
LIZ HAYES: Have all been impacted?
RICHARD: Affected, yes.
LIZ HAYES: When you look at that injury, how lucky was Darren?
RICHARD: I think he’s lucky to be alive.
LIZ HAYES: When you watch the last fall, how do you feel about that?
DARREN: I guess, um, seeing - seeing it happen now, I can say, “Well, I’ve got out of it pretty light.”
LIZ HAYES: Does it hurt?
DARREN: Um, no, it doesn’t hurt. It just - I know it’s finished after that.
LIZ HAYES: Did you ever appreciate how dangerous your Dad’s job was?
JESSICA: Ah, yeah. It was always really nerve-wracking, watching every race. Like, we’d always be, like, holding hands and, like, our heart would be like beating so fast cause we’d be so scared if something bad was going to happen.
LIZ HAYES: Jessica Beadman, like her sister Rachel and brother Mitch, always understood the risks involved in horse racing. But they weren’t prepared when the accident they feared most actually happened.
MITCH: It was a real wake up call, you know. You don’t really realise, you know. You sort of hear about it, and you see, you know, other people going through it, but to sort of be in that situation was, was a little bit – it was hard, you know.
DARREN: From what the medical team have told me - that if I have another bad fall I’d probably end up in a nursing home, and I don’t want that for myself or my family – and you know, basically my career’s over. But I’ve had a great career. 30-odd years of - of you know, excitement, that’s the way I look at it. Yeah. Yep.
LIZ HAYES: It’s a hard – it’s a hard one though, isn’t it?
DARREN: Yeah, it is. I felt that I had a few more years to go.
LIZ HAYES: Darren Beadman’s career began with a love of horses when he was just four-years-old.
DARREN: Once you get a bit of horse dung under your nail, it never leaves you, so-
LIZ HAYES: A great childhood dream that came true?
DARREN: It did, yeah. It’s just been a fabulous journey, really. You know, I look back at it and I just think that I’ve been really blessed to be able to do something in life that I really wanted to do.
LIZ HAYES: Darren was an apprentice jockey at 15, rode his first winner at 16, and at 18 defied the critics when he won the 1984 Golden Slipper. It’s a trophy that 28 years later he still cherishes. Wow, yeah, look at that.
DARREN: It’s nothing flash, but it’s really - it has a lot of memories.
LIZ HAYES: Packed away are trophies from an extraordinary career of more than 3,000 wins - two of them for Australia’s most prestigious race, the Melbourne Cup.
COMMENTATOR: Kingston Rule in front! Kingston Rule. Kingston Rule has won the Melbourne Cup by a length!
LIZ HAYES: The Melbourne Cup - can you explain how that feels?
DARREN: Oh, you want to hug someone but you can’t, you know, it’s just like - I just want to, you know, just release my emotions, but you just can’t, you know. It’s a really difficult position to be in, but - it just felt like, that, you know, I’d achieved what I wanted to do.
LIZ HAYES: In ’96, Darren won the Melbourne cup on Saintly – and on a trip down memory lane it’s clear the two still have a strong bond.
DARREN: See if he likes bread.
LIZ HAYES: Why do you think you were such a good team?
DARREN: Oh, I think that – I think he knew that I liked him and he seemed to respond to that type of, I guess, personality, I guess.
LIZ HAYES: Maybe it’s because you’re both gentle but you’re both competitive?
DARREN: Yeah, I think so, yeah. Yeah. We just – it was, like, you think you’re in top gear and you just ask for another gear and away you go - away he went in the Melbourne Cup. Um, but yeah, we just - he always responded well when I asked him for an effort. Lovely, kind horse. He looks pretty good for 20, don’t you mate? Yes, you look very good.
LIZ HAYES: You’re obviously comfortable with horses.
DARREN: Yeah, I just – I just love them. Yeah. They’re good - they’re good, um, good therapy. Yeah, very good therapy.
LIZ HAYES: Along with the incredible highs, Darren has had some serious lows. In the early ‘90s, his commitment to racing was sorely tested after two other falls in Hong Kong, and then a nine-month worldwide disqualification for not riding a horse on its merits. The thing that hurt you most, though, seems to me that you were being called a cheat. And that’s not who you think you are.
DARREN: No. No, I’m not. It’s an area that - it’s not part of my DNA. I’ve – I’ve seen, you know, a lot of things in racing that - you know, temptations and things like that. But you just - you know that it’s on the road to ruin.
LIZ HAYES: I was going to ask you about that. I mean, surely you are a man that somebody has come up and whispered something to.
LIZ HAYES: People have come and offered you a shady deal?
DARREN: Yeah, yep.
LIZ HAYES: And how did you deal with that?
DARREN: I haven’t been offered too many times, because people - the word gets out and people know that you’re not that way inclined, so they don’t – they work around you, you know, so. I have been offered but I just said, “No, I’m not interested mate.”
LIZ HAYES: Are you able to say what it was?
DARREN: No, I’d rather not!
LIZ HAYES: It’s always a smart man, probably, that keeps his own counsel!
LIZ HAYES: In 1997, after a brilliant riding season, Darren shocked the industry when he announced he was retiring to become an evangelical preacher. But two years later he was back.
DARREN: I missed the, you know, the camaraderie in the jockeys’ room and, you know, the pranks and the jokes we played on each other. And the - the adrenalin rush and, you know, putting your body through pain.
LIZ HAYES: You missed a bit of pain, did you?
LIZ HAYES: You don’t regret those years?
DARREN: No, it’s all part of the chapters in my life and they’ve been great years. One thing I did find hard, was that, you know, you’re a Christian, but you’re also a competitor, and where do you draw the line?
LIZ HAYES: And where did you draw that line?
DARREN: Well sometimes I had to go home and ask for forgiveness - because the flesh came out in me.
LIZ HAYES: This is a new and difficult chapter in Darren’s life. He’s taking it one day at a time, trying to regain some of the skills he lost. His racing days may be over, but his plans for a happy and fulfilling future are not.
KIM: I’m really thankful he’s still alive, I’m thankful that he’s walking, thankful that he’s - you know, um - there’s – obviously there’s, you know, there’s problems. But he’s - he’s still, you know - oh, what can I say? I don’t know.
DARREN: I’m still good looking.
LIZ HAYES: He’s still the Tom Cruise of racing. Let’s say it.
DARREN: Tom’s got green eyes, and I’ve got blue. So.
LIZ HAYES: There is the difference.
KIM: He’s better. Yeah.
LIZ HAYES: What do you want to get back to?
DARREN: You know, I just – like, I know I’ll never get back. I don’t feel that I’ll ever get back to the skill that I had before in riding, and the balance, and all that sort of stuff. And look, I’ve had a great day in the sun, really. And, so, it’s just a matter of, you know, trying to make the best of what I’ve got. And – and be happy with it. And be satisfied.