Louisvillians, we have officially entered the most exciting season of the year! The fastest two minutes in sports is upon us and the city is roaring with excitement and preparations! As the field for the Kentucky Derby is finalized and outfits worthy of the Red Carpet are purchased, I thought it appropriate to take a moment to pay homage to Penny Chenery, a woman famous in the world of horse racing who continues to inspire me. For those unfamiliar with the name, Penny Chenery was the owner of Triple Crown winner, Secretariat. Her story, pictured in the movie, “Secretariat,” is one from which we can learn valuable lessons about believing in yourself regardless of how the world thinks you should win, place or show.
Married in 1949, Penny and her husband, John Tweedy, had four children. Although she attended Columbia Business School as one of 20 women in a class with 800 men, she lived the life of a suburban housewife in Colorado for nearly 20 years. After the death of her mother, and the further decline of her father’s health, Penny’s life changed. Although she had responsibilities to her family in Colorado, she decided it was necessary for her to split her days alternating between suburban housewife and overseer of horse operations for her father’s farm, The Meadow, in Virginia. During this time, she participated in the infamous coin toss with Phipps Farms that resulted in her ownership of a horse least likely to become a successful racehorse, “Big Red,” later named “Secretariat.” Pictured beautifully in the Disney movie “Secretariat,” Penny knew in her heart that this horse would be special. Despite opposition from her husband at her being a woman trying to enter a jockey club that was exclusively male, and the strain she knew this commitment would place on her relationship and family, she still believed that she must see this horse run. She stayed committed to her vision and willed Secretariat through to Horse of the Year honors and securing the Triple Crown in 1973, the first winner in 25 years.
There is so much to learn from the Penny Chenery story. Personally, I admire the strength it took to follow her inner convictions even when that required her to do things that were unpopular with the people she loved and knew loved her. She entered horse racing, a sport not likely to be kind to a female owner at that time, but she stayed true to her goals. She knew what she wanted, stayed focused and saw it through.
Penny Chenery is a profound example of one of my favorite quotes by Bishop TD Jakes. He states, “Giraffes and turtles — they occupy the same space, but they don’t share the same view. The giraffe can be in the same geographical location as the turtle, but the giraffe eats from the tops of the trees, and the turtle moves through the grass. What ultimately happens in the lives of people is that, we eat on the level of our vision. When you are a giraffe and you get criticism from turtles, the turtles are reporting the view from the level they’re on. If you understand this, you won’t be moved by what the turtles say.”
Today, at 93-years-old, Penny Chenery stands as a symbol of what can be if you believe in yourself, if you trust your gut and focus on your vision, even when those around you don’t understand it. This year, for the 141st Kentucky Derby, Penny Chenery, I salute you for all that you have done in your life! You have inspired many women, young and old, to trust themselves and pursue their dreams no matter what. You have taught us to be bold, to be brave and, for that, your name will live on for generations. Penny Chenery, you are a powerful #Inspiration.