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Emotional times as Gehm returns to Pardubice.

Byline: ALASTAIR DOWN

PETER GEHM, a blond and blue-eyed German straight out of central casting, rode the winner of the Velka Pardubicka from 2001 to 2004.

First on Chalco, for the horsemeister Josef Vana, then aboard the half-mad Maskul, before twice storming home on the peerless mare Registana. And, so for four years at the big post-race party at Pardubice's old castle, Peter was the centre of attention, modestly accepting the congratulations of a crowd of well-wishers who appreciated that, among them, was a young man about whom the overworked word "remarkable" was no trite tribute.

But, last year, Gehm was nowhere to be seen. On an everyday morning at home, an ordinary two-year-old had a routine spook. Gehm was crushed against a wall and paralysed from the waist down. Athlete no more. New home a wheelchair.

It's not something you and I will ever understand, but you can travel an awful long way in a wheelchair without ever moving so much as a yard. And Gehm's mind took his irredeemably transformed body down mental backroads so bleak that, to him, the only way out, the only solution, was the final one. So he tried to kill himself.

But on Saturday night, at the eve-of-race gathering, there he was back again, able at last to face the ordeal of returning to the scene of his finest hours, wife and young son flanking him as he sat in his wheelchair.

He speaks better English than most of us and the smile wasn't just back on his face, but in his eyes as well. I won't sell you some soppy story about Peter having conquered his demons, but he looked like a man who had taught himself how to co-exist with them.

Always well above average at all sport at school, Peter spoke of how he had chosen to be a jockey as he discovered racing and winning best answered his inner needs. He has recently taken up wheelchair basketball and was severely pissed off that his team had been well stuffed the previous weekend in their first really important match.

Some things don't change, competitors still have to compete.

That it has been horribly hard, he left nobody in any doubt. There was no self-pity but as a successful, high-profile sportsman there had been a myriad of friends, or so everyone thought. But with a hard core of glorious exceptions an awful lot of them had disappeared as is the wont of the ungenuine when things get difficult.

And it is no surprise that AP McCoy and Mick Fitzgerald are among the mates from over here who ring and talk to him. About what doesn't matter, that they do it most definitely does.

We all watched a replay of his last Pardubicka win on Registana from the days way back before Peter's pomp turned to circumstance. Then Mirek Petran, that ever smiling, bloody marvel of a little man who keeps the heart of the Pardubicka beating with his own, rose to his feet and presented Gehm with a small gold rosette. I don't know exactly what is was for, just being P Gehm strikes me as reason enough.

And yes it was emotional and the 70 or 80 of us assembled under that vast high ceiling stood and cheered, and clapped our hands long and loud with great thanks; not for those four famous victories, but for having him back among us, the human being as "going concern" once more. THERE is only one higher price jockeys pay and the Czechs don't forget that either. The race before the Pardubice is the "Paramo Prize, Richard Davis Memorial" as Richard had ridden at Pardubice just weeks before he was killed at Market Rasen.

But, of course, neither Gehm nor the other lads who ply their trade round Europe have the great shining light of an institution that is the Injured Jockeys' Fund. At last month's meeting of the IJF Committee and Almoners decisions were made and action taken in respect of no less than 34 men and eight women who are beneficiaries in one way or another of this literally life-enhancing fund.

The next meeting is to be held in the Wiltshire village of Oaksey. The bearer of that name is himself not as robust as he deserves to be these days but he is the greatest hero of my racing lifetime and his life's work for others is one of the mightiest confirmations that, for all the seeming hopelessness of things, this is in truth still a world worth the living in.

'He looked like a man who taught himself to co-exist with his demons'
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Oct 16, 2007
Words:774
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