“I want to say to everyone else, get stuffed, because they think women aren’t strong enough but we just beat the world.” Who could forget jockey Michelle Payne’s forthright speech immediately after becoming the first female jockey to win Australia’s biggest horse race?
Now in her memoir, Life As I know It, Michelle Payne reveals the full story behind her historic win.
Michelle was six months old when her mother was killed in a tragic car accident. Her father was left with ten children to look after including baby Michelle and her brother Stevie who was born with Down Syndrome.
Payne’s memoir describes in beautiful, glorious detail the chaos, fighting, love, and banter that took place in the Payne household over the years. At their modest home adjoining Ballarat racecourse in rural Victoria all the Payne kids were obsessed with horse racing and Michelle was no exception.
Hers is a story of how a combination of talent, hard work, and sheer determination paid off. The Payne kids managed their lives without their mother – rising at dawn to muck out stables, clean up, feed themselves. Many times they had done half a day’s work before they even got to school.
Brothers Patrick and Andrew became full-time jockeys, as did of most of Michelle’s older sisters, and so the Paynes became one of Australia’s prominent racing families. One of them, Bridget, was tragically killed after suffering a brain injury after a riding accident.
At an early age Michelle became determined that she would one day win the Melbourne Cup. However, despite natural talent and burgeoning success at prestigious Group 1 races, Michelle was plagued by injury. One particular head injury was so serious her family begged her to consider retirement. One of her sisters forced a promise that if she ever won the Melbourne Cup she would retire.
We all know the ending of this remarkable story but somehow Michelle, with her co-writer John Harms, still manages to build up palpable tension and suspense until the finale. Life As I Know It is one unputdownable memoir and you don’t have to love horse racing to be inspired by this honest and moving story.
The memoir shows us that Michelle’s sometimes harsh circumstances during childhood contributed to her success. Growing up in a this big competitive family meant contending for everything, from lollies, to attention.
As she did in her memorable speech, Michelle touches on the subject of women in racing. She has to vie to get races over her male counterparts, especially before she is proven, and she knows she has to be twice as good as her male rivals. Before that fateful Melbourne Cup, she is aware that some of Prince of Penzance’s owners would have kicked her off her beloved Prince, to put a male rider on for the Cup.
She describes in detail the harsh realities of being a jockey – the early mornings, the rigorous training and the strict dietary regime to maintain the correct weight. Many of her boyfriends have been jockeys, because who could put up with that life?
But after her many injuries somehow Michelle often does find balance. She finds time for her family, her beloved dad and brother Stevie, her best friends from schools, ‘the Loretto girls’ as she fondly calls them, and she fosters a love of travel with trips to Europe and to Africa to assist aid programs. In fact, it is really when she relaxes and finds some measure of balance, when she turns thirty, that she wins the Cup.
Michelle’s story is so inspirational that Australian actor/producer Rachael Griffiths has snapped up rights and will direct the movie of Michelle’s story, out next year. (See why Rachael Griffiths was inspired by this book here)