In just a few short weeks, twenty horses will thunder around the track at Churchill Downs as they race to win the first jewel of the Triple Crown, the Kentucky Derby. All eyes will be trained on the collection of the world’s finest thoroughbred race horses as they rocket around the track, intent on running the fastest two minutes in sports just a little bit faster than everyone else.
What the world will not likely notice is a lone horse and rider racing in the opposite direction just outside the track. That rider is Donna Barton Brothers, the NBC Sports reporter who will meet the winning jockey at the finish line and be the first to capture their thoughts in the emotional moments after their win, before they’ve even had a chance to claim their prize in the winner’s circle.
It takes moxie to engage in such a delicate dance – backwards and on horseback – and Donna Barton Brothers has it. Here’s how:
Sometimes people with moxie are just born with it.
Brothers was born to be a jockey. It just took her some time to embrace it.
She’s the daughter of Patti Barton, one of the first women to ever be licensed as a jockey. Her brother and sister are both jockeys. She literally grew up at the track. Perhaps that’s why the idea of becoming a jockey seemed so mundane to her at first.
After high school she knocked around as an exercise rider for a few years, but knew she needed to get serious about her future. At the urging of her agent, she decided to try just one race as a jockey. That’s all it took. Suddenly, being a jockey didn’t seem so mundane any more.
She rode successfully for more than a decade and became one of the top money-earners among women, logging more than 1000 career wins.
Going into the family business might not seem all that exciting – even if the family business is horse racing – but people with moxie recognize that there are new trails to blaze even on well-trod ground.
People with moxie are prepared.
Winning so much as a jockey landed Brothers in front of reporters frequently. That did much to prepare her for a career on the other side of the mic, asking the questions instead of fielding them.
But Barton takes that preparation even further, studying up months in advance for Triple Crown coverage. Look closely, and you might spy notecards peeking out where she’s recorded details on horses, jockeys, owners, trainers and more. With endless possibilities for outcomes of every race, it takes months of research and study to be ready to ask insightful, relevant questions within moments after the winner has crossed the finish line.
Add to that the tremendous difficulty of doing an interview on horseback. Brothers is asking a jockey during what is perhaps the pinnacle of their career to share their emotions and reactions with a live television audience of millions of people, all while holding a microphone with one hand and guiding and controlling a horse and looking great on camera. It’s a remarkable feat, and one that she’s uniquely able to master.
People with moxie don’t just rely on natural talent or a life-time of building skills to get the job done. They respect the opportunities that they earn by preparing well and making the most of them.
People with moxie find peace, and share that peace with others.
Brothers, who now calls Louisville home, balances the intense demands of her life on camera at the track by practicing yoga. It’s a practice she shares with the young women of Maryhurst. Many of the girls there have suffered abuse and neglect, and perhaps have had little stability or peace in their lives.
After a fairly nomadic childhood following her family to different racetracks across the country, Brothers has a small glimpse into the girls’ world. She wanted to offer the girls a space for quiet, and focus, and peace. She earned her certification just so she could lead the girls in yoga once a week.
People with moxie understand that when they find something that’s helpful in their own lives, they have the opportunity and responsibility to share that with others who need it most. They make space in their lives, despite the demands and pressure they must feel, to invest in others.
I’d be thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Brothers one day. If I get the chance, what should I ask?