The underlying perception is that if you wait, you will lose your confidence. You have got to get back up, dust yourself off and confront the challenge.

It is the kind of gritty resolve that builds resilience when facing setbacks.

Diane Crump has lived that mantra.

Diane Crump at Hialeah Park in 1969

On Feb. 7, 1969, the 5-foot-4, 108-pound Ms. Crump rode in a 12-horse race at Hialeah Park in Florida, becoming the first female jockey to compete at a parimutuel track in America. To get to the starting gate that day, Ms. Crump scrapped her way through bursting camera flashbulbs and a catcalling crowd. She was surrounded by security guards. As the horses made their way onto the track, the bugler altered the call to post from the customary “Boots and Saddles” to “Smile for Me, My Diane.”

If anything, those naysayers, who resented the lifting of the ban on female jockeys, made Ms. Crump want to be a jockey even more. “That’s what happens when you’re told you can’t,” she said. (Riding Bridle ‘N Bit, she finished ninth in a field of 12.)

The next year, Ms. Crump, then 21, became the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby. She finished 15th in a field of 17 horses, riding Fathom. Since then, only five other women have competed in that Triple Crown race, and none have won it. (Not until 1993 did a woman — Julie Krone — win a Triple Crown race, the Belmont Stakes.) Not until 2013 did a woman — Anna Rose “Rosie” Napravnik — compete in all three Triple Crown races.

For more than three decades, Ms. Crump made her living galloping, training and racing horses in the hardscrabble male-dominated sport. Insults, fuming male jockeys and even the intermittent physical threat were part of her work world.

“I didn’t listen to that,” she said. “I was going to ride races and no matter what anyone had to say, no matter the criticism — ‘you’re not good enough, strong enough, cool and calm enough’ — it didn’t affect me. I was so passionate about what I did that I 100 percent ignored it. I never, ever let it be a part of me. I got on with it.”

Over the years, Ms. Crump often found herself aboard the most difficult horses, the ones male jockeys had turned down, or those that were not the crème de la crème. Nonetheless, she won 228 races, earning her more than $1 million, according to statistics compiled by the database Equibase.

She may not have won the run for the roses, but she did ride the winner in the opening race of the day of the 1970 Kentucky Derby. “That was awesome, and the fact that I was riding in the Derby was exciting,” she said. “I was a part of it. It was a big field. Fathom wasn’t bred to go that far. He was bred to go a mile, not a mile and a quarter. He gave it a shot. So did I.”

Diane Crump; Photo courtesy of Ms. Crump

Ms. Crump chose a tough career that never got easier. She had to prove herself over and over again.

“Resilience is what keeps you going,” she said. “No matter what you do, there are going to be a lot of challenges and obstacles. You’re going to get hurt, at least in my sport. You’re going to feel like you can’t accomplish what you want. So you have to have that belief in yourself that you can do what is in your heart. To me, that’s it. The dream is in your heart. No matter if I was injured, how many broken bones, how much pain, how much resistance. I just never gave up.”

But the passion did take a toll on her body. Along the way, she had crushing falls, broken collarbones, fractured legs and splintered ribs. She had three surgeries on each knee over the years and wore her shoulders out galloping horses. “I always got back up,” she said.

Her resilience was also rooted in her work ethic. “Diane showed up early every morning to gallop horses, despite the weather, despite illness, despite injury,” wrote Mark Shrager, author of the recently released “Diane Crump: A Horse-Racing Pioneer’s Life in the Saddle.”

That kind of all-encompassing passion is essential to getting back up after setbacks. “The great thing about having a passion is that it means you are focused on that thing,” Ms. Crump said. “The fact that every single day I did what I loved — galloping racehorses, working with horses, feeling in my heart that it was going to happen. That kept me going.”

Ms. Crump’s passion was sparked when she was a 4-year-old. At a country carnival in Milford, Conn., as her two brothers headed for the bumper cars, she ran to the pony-ride ring with her father behind her. When that first slow walk around the dusty circle ended, she gripped the tiny paint pony’s neck. “I wouldn’t get off the pony,” she said. “Every time it stopped, I wouldn’t get off, and my father would have to pay them again.”

That passion drove her from a child playing with imaginary horses on the beach where she grew up on Long Island to a high school student working on a thoroughbred breeding farm, galloping horses and learning about the training of them. “I just love them and the way they make you feel,” she said. “Galloping a great racehorse gives you a powerful freedom. I gave all the horses I rode my heart, and they gave me theirs. My love of horses created a world I could never have imagined.”

And even though women were not welcome at the starting gate, that did not deter her. “She was able to make this happen for herself in a world that really didn’t want her to be part of it,” Mr. Shrager wrote. “She did it because she insisted that she had to do it.”

Winning helps. Success builds resilience. “If you had no success, you would be thinking ‘well, why am I doing this?’” Ms. Crump said.

Having support of people who believe in you is another crucial component to building resilience and, ultimately, winning, Ms. Crump said. “From the time I was a young girl at that carnival,” she said, “my father and mother, my brothers and sister, and, eventually, my husband, who was a horse trainer, and my daughter and stepchildren wanted me to win. It was a team effort.”

Ms. Crump tries to give that encouragement back to younger generations. “I try every single day to encourage and never discourage,” she said. She still has a fan base — mostly young girls — who see her as an inspiration and a role model. Each letter or email she receives — and there are hundreds each month — she responds to personally. “I live for that. I want to be able to encourage these kids.”

Her religious faith was a keystone as well. “I remember when things were really difficult, I would lay there on the grass and look at the stars and talk to God and ask him for help,” she said. “It has never let me down.”

In 1998, she hung up her saddle. Ms. Crump, now 72, started a website offering her consulting and sales services to potential horse buyers that she operates out of her home in Linden, Va. “For me, life is working,” Ms. Crump said. “We are here to help other people, to be part of the human network — a big part of life is you work at a job that you are intended to do. In my case, God gave me gifts — a love of horses and a fair amount of horsemanship and a love of people.”


Photo by Isabel Kurek
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