We don't care if he's 30-1, we're rooting for Uncle Sigh in today's Kentucky Derby! Wishing owner George “Chip” McEwen and his special guests a wonderful day!
LOUISVILLE, KY. — The soldier was barely 27, carried from his seat on the plane as his wife, mother and young children followed behind.
Thoroughbred owner George “Chip” McEwen and his fiancée, Lynne Langermann, watched with other passengers as the procession filed through the narrow aisle outside the airport in Charlotte, N.C.
“He’d been hit by an IED and suffered some head trauma,” McEwen recounted. “As he’s carried off the plane (by his father), he’s giving everyone a thumbs up.”
It left many passengers — including Langermann — in tears.
“That was the moment that changed everything for me,” recalled McEwen, whose 3-year-old colt, Uncle Sigh, will run in Saturday’s Kentucky Derby. “When you think about somebody who’s been wounded in a war, you don’t really think about their family members and how that entire dynamic is changed forever — all because they put their lives on the line to protect our freedom.
“I looked at Lynne and said: ‘We’ve got to find a way to help these people.’ ”
In a matter of months, McEwen received the Jockey Club’s approval to change the name of his stables to Wounded Warrior Stables and switch to yellow silks emblazoned with a purple heart, symbolic of the medal given to those wounded or killed during combat.
He also began donating a least 10 percent of his horses’ earnings to charities that support injured troops and their families.
For the 140th running of the Derby, McEwen will be host for a soldier who lost both legs in Afghanistan and a family whose son was killed in Iraq.
[Army Chief Warrant Officer Scott] Schroeder, a native of Fort Wayne, Ind., was injured in 2010 when a pressure plate detonated a bomb directly beneath his vehicle.
Both of his legs had to be amputated above the knee, and his right arm was mangled by fractures and shrapnel. He’s had more than 40 surgeries and has been walking on prosthetic legs for the past three years, his wife Laura Schroeder said.
The Whitings lost their son, Army Sgt. Justin Whiting, when a roadside bomb struck the vehicle the special forces medical unit member was riding in six years ago. The family has two other sons — a daughter and a son-in-law, who also serve in the special forces — in addition to a son who is a civilian.
“I don’t think either family believed me when I first told them,” said David, who also will attend the Derby as McEwen’s guest. “They were so excited.”
The Schroeders and Whitings will watch the race from a third-floor box donated by Mike Penna, president of the Lexington-based Horse Racing Radio Network. Uncle Sigh opened at 30-1 odds.
“A few months back, I had Chip on the radio show and he told me what he wanted to do and it really touched my heart,” said Penna, whose best friend has been deployed three times.
McEwen said owners receive six box tickets and the opportunity to purchase a dozen more. With 48 friends and family members to find seats for, he was running out of time when Penna offered his box.
“I almost started crying,” McEwen said. “I was so worried because I just want to get everyone to Louisville and for them to have a great time.”
Uncle Sigh’s trainer, Gary Contessa, said having the veterans and their families cheering on the horse will be a “special feeling.”
“We don’t treat our war wounded and war veterans the way we should as a country. A lot of times they come home and they are forgotten,” Contessa said as tears welled in his eyes. “We can’t do enough for these guys and their families; it will be really special to have them be part of this day with us.”