On the mornings that Mr. Theodore Atkinson of Woodbury, L.I. and Miami Springs, Fla. leaves his home for work, he is usually seen to the door by his wife, who kisses him goodby and perhaps adds a few domestic words about shopping or the children. Mrs. Atkinson betrays no alarm at her husband's going, although she knows from long and intimate experience the hazards of his work.
Atkinson, the satisfied athlete pictured on the opposite page, is a jockey, a trade which calls upon him to ride a half-ton of horseflesh at 30 or 40 miles an hour around a circular track approximately a mile in diameter, either in the midst of, following or, if he is fortunate, pursued by five to 27 other horses. During the minute or two that it takes to conclude this chore, Atkinson may encounter several normal risks of his profession. His leg may be shattered against the rail that encloses the track. His horse may stumble and catapult him over its head, in which case he stands a reasonable chance of being trampled by other horses. A rock, kicked up by a horse in front, may break his nose. His saddle may slip and he may find himself riding the air but not the horse, a situation which, while picturesque, is rarely permanent. And in the event he finishes the race without mishap, but also without winning, he may then become the target of considerable abuse from those unfortunates who had bet on his horse to run away from all the others.
Mrs. Atkinson has known all this for 15 years. Still, she rarely worries. She is an attractive and intelligent young woman, with a rational, optimistic attitude toward herself, her husband, their two children and life in general. This derives in part from an understanding of her husband, who leaves very little to chance itself. Atkinson is not a typical jockey. He is studious, almost bookish. His character is sober and conservative, and even his daring seems calculated. He is not only a rider of horses but a thinker about them.
So is his wife. She grew up on a horse farm owned by her father in North Randall, Ohio and she rode before she could talk. Today there are three race tracks where the farm once stood. When Martha was small, there were only the farm and the stables and barns full of the trotting horses her father bred. Across the road was a mile-long flat-racing track, but Martha was not allowed to mix with running-horse people. The trotting-horse crowd considered them shiftless and uncouth. Martha's father, Bert Shank, was mayor of North Randall for 32 years, and the town jail was in his brood mare barn. During the running-track meetings, the jail was always full of running-track people who had gambled or drunk or otherwise disturbed the peace.
But one day, when Martha was 18 years old and picking lilacs near the barn, she was seen by a young apprentice jockey from the running track. He was tanned and handsome and very polite when he came over to introduce himself. His name was Ted Atkinson and he was 22 years old. For the space of several minutes love fought a bitter battle with duty. Love won.
Actually, there was very little for Martha's parents to dislike about Atkinson. He neither drank nor gambled. He saved his money. His manners were impeccable. His feet, when they were not in the stirrups, were certainly on the ground. Martha herself worried a bit that he was shorter than she was, but after a while in his company she felt this to be irrelevant. Ten days after their first meeting they were engaged.
At that time Ted was a $90-a-month jockey under contract to Calumet Farms, the horse racing empire built upon a solid foundation of baking powder. Characteristically, he had managed to save a little out of his earnings, but not enough to support a wife on. They decided that Martha would stay home and find a job while Ted followed the racing circuit. It took them a year and a half, during which they saw each other for a total of two weeks, to accumulate a satisfactory dowry. In the interim Ted wrote bushels of letters to his fianc�e, most of them businesslike and laconic, and there were a few complications. Calumet was going to drop Ted back to exercise boy, and he decided to buy up his contract.
So that took the first thousand dollars the couple had saved. Martha went with him on the negotiations, and the incident gave her her first real look at the kind of man she was planning to marry. The owner of Calumet happened to be a friend of her father's. When Ted discovered this he made her sit on the floor of their car, where she would not be seen, while Ted went inside to transact the business. He wasn't allowing any man to think he had come for favors.
At the end of the year and a half they had $7,000 in a joint account in a Cleveland bank. They were married in North Randall. Two days later Ted left for Florida and three weeks later Martha quit her job and followed him. By the time she arrived he had rented an apartment in Miami Springs and was ready to move her into it.
And it was there that Martha was initiated to the trials that beset the life of most jockeys. A horse spilled Ted during a race and his agent came to break the news. "I knew what had happened the minute I saw him coming up the walk," Martha says. "There was no reason for me to know, but I just did." She fled to the hospital, where Ted lay unconscious for two hours, while the doctors decided whether or not his skull was fractured. It was only a concussion; his first conscious words were, "Take care of Martha. She's pregnant." His next words were, "When can I go back to work?"