Ed Donnally: A Wild Jockey, A New Direction
By Gorman Woodfin
The 700 Club
For almost 20 years, Ed Donnally traveled the country as a professional jockey.
“I won something like 1200 races at least. I rode over 10,000 races. I rode at over 50 different race tracks. I broke at least 13 bones.”
As a teen, Ed loved horses and wanted to become a jockey.
“I’m small and athletic and if you weigh 100 lbs, you’re not going to be a linebacker for the Rams. So I left home at the age of 16. My dad gave me a train ticket and $40 and I had written a letter to all the horse farms in Lexington, Kentucky. And a man by the name of Herman Goodpasture hired me, and I went there and became a jockey.”
He started winning races, and with the money and fame came a wild lifestyle
“The first year I rode I made more money than my dad did in all of his life. I was 19, I had a high rise apartment overlooking the bay in Baltimore. I had a brand-new car, and I had syphilis. So, you can understand some sort of the lifestyle that I was living in those days. I was 5’ 2” and I had a 6’ 8” ego.”
When he eventually retired from racing, he became an award-winning newspaper writer and television producer. But intense depression affected everything in his life.
“It had gotten to a point where there was no light at the end of my tunnel. It was just a tunnel. And I couldn’t see any daylight. I couldn’t see any light at all and it was darkness everywhere I was.”
Ed married early in his racing career but when his marriage ended, he hit rock bottom.
“I took 36 Xanax following my divorce. The only reason I’m probably alive is a friend of my ex-wife’s had a key to the house, and why she had a key I don’t even know. But she had a key. She came in. Saw me on the floor. Called an ambulance.”
For the next six years, Ed struggled with depression. Until one day, he finally cried out to God.
“I got my Bible and I lay down on this floor, and I told God – I said, ‘God, You got to show me a verse. I’m going to die. You know, I’m not going to come out of this. I don’t know how.’ The Bible fell open to Isaiah 43. ‘Behold, I’ll do a new thing. And it will spring forth. Shall you not know it? I will make you a path in the wilderness and a river in the desert.’”
But the change in Ed’s life was a step-by-step process. About a year later, he was in another relationship. He thought his girlfriend had been unfaithful to him and in a jealous rage, he hit her. She pressed charges and while he was in the court house holding cell—one of the other inmates started preaching.
“Then God touched me, and I started crying because –because I knew God had forgiven me of all the things that I had done, and all the misery that I had caused—had caused people.”
Ed spent 16 days in jail. After his release, his life went in a new direction. He is now a writer and a chaplain on the Los Angeles mayor’s crisis response team. And he’s married to Sandi.
Sandi says, “I’ve watched my husband in such a humbling position. He’ll be on his knees and that’s just an awesome thing to see your husband on his knees before God.”
Ed sees a strong parallel between horse racing and the Christian life.
“When you’re a jockey and you’re in a race, and you’re inside the 8th pole and you can’t separate yourself from the horse. The horse is you and you’re the horse. You’re just one entity. And I think there’s a spiritual parallel there with the relationship that we need to strive for with Christ.”
“When we’re in a place where there is no future and we reach out, and ask Christ, He’s going to show up. He’s going to show—he showed up for me. He’ll show up for you. He’ll show up for anybody that asks.”
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