Whether you think you can or can’t do something, either way you are going to be right” is the inspirational mindset of jockey Jonjo Bright, who was left paralyzed from the neck down following a horse racing accident in March 2013.
Born on December 19th, 1993, in Templepatrick, Co Antrim Bright was a promising jockey described by racing pundits as “destined for big things, as he had the right attitude”.
Unquestionably, Bright’s family life surrounded horse racing as his dad John, an exceptional rider in his own right became the Northern Point-to-Point champion in 1993, with his mum Jayne winning the Novice Championship the same year. Meanwhile, his uncle Robert Patton was champion in 1999, and Grandfather, William Patton rode numerous notable winners back in the 1960s. So ultimately his participation in the sport was never really in any doubt.
Arriving at the Tyrella Point-to-Point course in Co Down his luck seemed to be in as fellow jockey Connor McGuinness had been booked to ride the well fancied Cally Bridge in the novice race but, at the last moment, switched to Bettys Rascal, thinking it would be better suited to the hard going that day. Apparently, Bright was in the right place at the right time. Shortly before the race, trainer Bernard Caldwell asked Jonjo who he had never met before to take the ride.
On hazardously fast ground and jumping fences which had been freshly rebirched, it was not an ideal scenario for novice horses. Coming to the third fence on the second circuit, Jonjo knew he was in serious trouble as his mount went completely wrong, and the horse and jockey took a horrific fall expressed as “absolutely horrifying to watch”.
Jonjo Bright pictured with Ap McCoy
Bright dislocated his C3 & C4 vertebrae, the disc between them destroyed. He was rapidly taken to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast where, that evening, Niall Eames, a trauma and orthopaedic surgeon, operated on him. Jonjo’s life had been saved but due to the extent of his injuries he was left paralysed from the neck down and told there would be no recovery.
Bright has been hailed as a hero, and an absolute role model for his inspirational outlook and determination following his life-changing incident, and has never given up hope in a recovery, “Taking one day at a time is the only way forward” insists Bight.
Jonjo has recently embarked on an exercise regime and has regained movement in his arms, limited power in his legs and can wiggle his toes. He has also been able to take thousands of steps with the help of a powered exoskeleton suit, which he describes as a “wearable robot” that he is strapped into during his training regime. “Refusing to think negative thoughts or to accept doctors’ diagnosis have helped my efforts to recover, I wasn’t listening to them”, adds Bright.
The big question on most people’s mind would be how did someone so young cope with the life changing accident to which Bright quickly responded, “I got through the early days by taking one day at a time and never looking too far into the future. I also developed a great ability to blank out negativity and learned to thrive off anything positive I could find”.
In Jonjo’s untimely short career in the saddle there were plenty of memorable times though he reminisces the most enjoyable times were working behind the scenes for the likes of Colin McKeever, Wilson Dennison and Warren Ewing, “I was involved with high class horses such as Blacklion, Shaneshill, Briarhill and Sound Investment. I’ve really enjoyed watching horses like these go on and achieve what they have” adds Bright.
The chances of returning to the saddle are realistically impossible but Bright has insisted he would like to eventually work in the industry once more perhaps in a bloodstock role, “I have two yearlings at the minute, one by Fame and Glory and the other by Imperial Monarch. Both are turning into lovely animals and I plan to take both back to the sales as 3-year-olds. I would take great pride should any of these go on to be successful and I think this is a big reason why this appeals to me” expressed Bright.
Bright has been monumentally supported since his accident by the racing fraternity, especially bThe Injured Jockey’s Fund which have been colossal help since his life changing injury, as they continue to go the extra mile to ensure he has everything he requires in his road to recovery and he is determined to make the most out of any given opportunity.
Jonjo also has the immense support of his long-term girlfriend Reah Magee. He told her to move on with her life and to forget about him after the accident, but she bluntly refused, and they are still together to this day and if anything, the couple have gotten stronger.
Positivity is infrequently seen in one so injured, but strong-minded Bright keeps striving to see the good in every challenging thing which affects his life, “I’ve always been the type to see light at the end of the tunnel” insists Bright.
Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow, you don’t realize your own strength until you come face to face with your greatest weakness. Jonjo Bright has been down an extremely difficult road, but he is still smiling and looking forward to the future, unquestionably “A true champion” who we will be hearing plenty more about in the forthcoming years