Jockey Scriver From ICU: 'Getting Better And Better Each Day'

Joree Scriver | Coady

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The Week In Review

On Saturday, six days after Joree Scriver got hurtled to the Sunland Park dirt in a violent, one-horse spill, the 21-year-old jockey was able to report good news: For the first time since her accident and emergency surgery to fix spinal damage, she was able to discern a bit of sensation in each of her legs.

“I'm a little rough, but I'm alright,” Scriver told TDN via phone from the intensive care unit at Las Palmas Medical Center in El Paso, Texas, about five miles over the New Mexico border from the track.

“The surgery went well. I had a few vertebrae cracked in my back. And then I cracked a few ribs. My lung wanted to collapse. It didn't quite collapse, but I'm good now. I have air in my lungs.

“They're waiting for the swelling to go down in my back. That's pretty much it right now. But actually, everything's turning out pretty good. I've been getting better and better each day,” Scriver said.

That's immense improvement from even just the day before, Friday, when Daily Racing Form quoted Scriver's sister, Nicole West, as saying Joree had no feeling from her belly button down.

“As of [Saturday], I felt a little tingling on my left leg, early in the morning,” Scriver explained. “It was like when your leg falls asleep. You know that fuzzy feeling? Like it's trying to [wake up]? And I'm hoping that the swelling's going down, and that's why it's doing that. And then my right leg did it later on [Saturday] afternoon.”

Given the gravity of her injuries, a TDN reporter didn't expect to be speaking with Scriver on Jan. 7 when he phoned her boyfriend, the jockey Luis Fuentes, seeking an update. But instead of Fuentes answering his own phone, Scriver took the call herself.

Fuentes, 22, said well-wishers who called hm and instead got Scriver this past weekend had been pleasantly surprised to hear her voice.

“When people call, they're like, 'Wait, is this actually Joree?'” Fuentes said. “They're surprised because her voice sounds so good. Her progress looks good. The swelling in her face is going down, too. She's been able to move a lot better. So we're hoping for recovery, and she's in really good spirits right now.

“For her only being in horse racing for about three years, she's had a lot of [racetrackers from around the country] caring about how she's doing, and that's nice to hear,” Fuentes said.

Fuentes has been by her side in the hospital for the better part of a week. He was also by her side, nearest to the rail, when Scriver's mount, No Huddle, went down abruptly nearing the entrance to the far turn in Sunland's third race Jan. 1.

That contest was a six-furlong NW3L $5,000 claimer. The 4-year-old No Huddle had been in good form, winning his most recent two starts at Zia Park in November and December. Fuentes himself had even ridden the gelding on four previous occasions, never finishing worse than second.

It is impossible to tell what happened from the pan shot. The head-on replay has been removed from the sites of at least three major industry replay providers. The Equibase chart caller's comment was simply “raced in mid-pack early, fell and was vanned off.” TDN could not obtain a veterinary update for No Huddle in time for deadline for this story.

Asked if she felt up to talking about the spill, Scriver didn't hesitate.

She said remembers everything about the race right up until the fall. Then “only flashes.”

“All I remember is my horse's head went down, and I went down,” Scriver said. “I don't remember going down, but I remember seeing my horse's head dip down. I remember being in the ambulance. And then going for surgery, I remember them putting on that breathing mask thing that makes you go to sleep. And that was it. Then I was out of it.”

For Fuentes, the aftermath of the accident was also a blur. His mount finished last, and all he could think about was dismounting and getting out to see Scriver as fast as possible.

“I was right next to her. It was like a freak accident that happened so fast. The horse never gave her a warning or anything, just went down,” Fuentes said.

'All smiles and ponytail'

Read through news clippings about Scriver that track her progress from tracks in the Pacific Northwest to New Mexico, or scan through the comments written about her on a GoFundMe page that has been set up to help pay for her recovery costs, and determination, work ethic, a passion for going fast on horseback, and a genuine love all things equine are what shine through.

The New York Times even profiled Scriver barely two years into her career within a larger piece about women and the horse-first culture at Grants Pass Downs in Oregon written in 2021. “In the mornings, the track's leading jockey, Joree Scriver, all smiles and ponytail, pedals a banana bike from barn to barn,” wrote Joe Drape.

That profile detailed how Scriver “has been atop a horse since learning to walk,” advancing from 4H Club riding near her home up by the Canadian border in Curlew, Washington, (population 51) to barrel racing as an adolescent, then galloping Thoroughbreds by age 16 for twelve bucks a pop while also competing on her high school's volleyball, softball and basketball teams. She got her jockey's license at 18, and won for the first time with her 11th mount on Aug. 10, 2019, at Oregon's Tillamook County Fair.

Scriver rode as an apprentice on the Oregon fairs circuit, at Emerald Downs, and Turf Paradise, which is where she and Fuentes first met. They started dating a bit later, after they each moved their tack to Zia in New Mexico.

Fuentes was born and raised in El Paso and comes from a racing-centric family of horsemen and jockeys, with a father, three uncles, and two brothers in the business ahead of him. He started riding at Sunland in 2018, then traveled to Parx, Santa Anita, Oaklawn and Prairie Meadows, among other venues, before settling in back home on the New Mexico circuit.

After closing out the Zia meet on a high note Dec. 20 (Fuentes won with his final four mounts to be leading rider; Scriver also won on the last day of the season and was fourth in the standings),  the couple had taken a brief break before looking forward to the Sunland meet's opening. As fate would have it, they got caught in a travel snafu.

“We flew back home to her house in Washington and spent the holidays there,” Fuentes said. “They cancelled our flights coming back on Southwest. So we had to drive, and it was like a 27-hour drive. And because there was a bunch of snow, the only thing the car rental had available to rent was a rear-wheel-drive truck.”

Fuentes isn't the type to complain. He instead referred to their travel ordeal as a “strong week” that at least ended favorably with them being able to celebrate New Year's Eve safely back home with his family.

In Sunland's first race of 2023, Fuentes and Scriver ran second and third, respectively.

“We were ready to start off the new racing year good,” Fuentes said. “Now I'm just glad she's alive and here.”

'Thankful for everyone'

The first week of the New Year in America was dominated by the devastating news of a 24-year-old National Football League player suffering cardiac arrest on national TV Jan. 2 after making a tackle.

Inside the stadium, tens of thousands watched as medical workers performed CPR and used a defibrillator to restore his heartbeat. Players and coaches wept and prayed, as did millions watching the tragedy unfold live and via social media.

Toward the end of the week, Damar Hamlin began showing remarkable progress, just like Scriver has.

The difference, of course, is that while one athlete's pain and recovery played out squarely in the media spotlight, another's unfolded privately and with little news coverage.

Fuentes said he was well aware of the juxtaposition of the two medical emergencies each athlete suffered. But he chose not to dwell on those differences.

“It's crazy…” he said, his voice trailing off in thought when asked about was going through his mind when he compared the two cases. “The risks we take as jockeys…”

Scriver's family had rushed down from Washington to be with her as soon as they got the news. But on Saturday, Scriver said she might be on the move soon.

“I'm thinking of going to Colorado, to Craig Hospital,” Scriver said, referring to the world-renowned spinal and brain injury rehab center just outside of Denver.

Although initially the online fundraising effort was established to defray travel costs for Scriver's family to make it to El Paso, donations are now being redirected to help Scriver's rehab.

“I'm thankful for everyone that's reached out to me,” Scriver said. “There's been a lot of people from everywhere. There's a GoFundMe account, and I know that some people have helped out in that sort of way, and it's really much appreciated.”

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