Posted: July 13, 2017
The following was written by Beatriz Contreras, who resides in the Chicago area. She grew up on the backstretches of Arlington Park, Hawthorne Race Course and the former Sportsman’s Park.
I am the daughter of a groom and hot walker and I grew up on the backstretches of Chicago horseracing tracks. I’d see the jockeys and the horses training each morning when I awoke. Every now and then, I’d get the chance to ride a pony.
I came to love the majesty of horse racing. With my dad and mom and cousins all working on the backstretch and caring for the horses, I developed a strong appreciation for all the preparation necessary to make horse racing possible.
But I knew that I would one day have a life outside the backstretch. As far as my dad was concerned, higher education was not a choice—it was a necessity. So that’s what I did. My parents and my extended family and friends on the backstretch constantly encouraged me to pursue my degree, and I’m grateful for their support. I also thank the Illinois Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.
The ITHA provides college scholarships to children of backstretch workers and I was fortunate to have received its assistance. Three years ago, I graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with my bachelor’s degree in biological sciences and I went on to pursue additional education at Chamberlain College of Nursing. In May, I graduated from Chamberlain with a bachelor’s of nursing degree. I passed my boards (NCLEX) at the end of June and am now applying for a nursing position.
Receiving the ITHA scholarship dramatically affected both my education and my family. My parents are very hardworking people who have been part of the backstretch community for more than 25 years. They have spent their lives performing to the best of their abilities both at home, as parents, and on the job. I am very proud and fortunate to have their full support, both emotionally and financially, towards my education. Given the high cost of tuition, the ITHA scholarship went a long way toward easing the financial strain on my family.
Illinois horsemen have a chance to help encourage other backstretch youth to pursue their higher education goals. Please urge these young men and women—the children of trainers, assistant trainers, vet assistants, foremen, grooms, exercise persons, pony persons, and hot walkers—to apply today for a scholarship through the Chicago Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Foundation.
The ITHA’s scholarship and the moral support I received from that organization encouraged and inspired me, boosting my determination to pursue my goal of becoming a nurse. Hopefully, with the support of my family and God, one day I will be able to give back to the backstretch community and be an example to the future college-bound generation of students growing up there.
Application materials are available in the ITHA office on the Arlington Park backstretch. The materials, together with more information about the scholarship program, are available here. The application deadline is July 15; contact the ITHA at 847-577-6464 with any questions about the program.