Most might expect Pat Day’s first love to be riding. After all, he is a retired Hall of Fame horse jockey with a slew of accolades under his belt, including the prestigious honor of winning the Kentucky Derby in 1992. But, “It’s Sheila,” Pat stated. “I love my wife deeply. She is the best part of my day.” It’s easy to see why – Sheila’s fiery personality and contagious laugh lends itself as a perfect complement to Pat’s kind and gentle spirit.
While the couple readily agree that they were “made for each other” they are also careful not to sugarcoat the institution of marriage in any way. “Marriage is difficult,” Pat explained. “It’s hard even when you’re with the right person.” Sheila agreed. “Our marriage has been wonderful. I married the greatest man. But, our marriage has had low points, too.” When asked why they insisted on conveying these realities, Pat quickly stated: “Because frequently, people have the wrong idea about marriage. We want people to know that a lifetime commitment to your marriage is still possible – it still exists. But it takes work. When we exchanged vows, we took them seriously – ‘til death do us part.”
Pat and Sheila’s lifetime commitment began in November of 1975, when they were set up on a blind date with each other. While they consider themselves a “perfect match,” Sheila confessed, “At first, we couldn’t stand each other!” Pat admitted that he was a “renegade” back then and that he looked at Sheila as his “conquest.” But somewhere between Pat’s strenuous riding schedule in Chicago, the couple gradually fell in love and became engaged. “When I asked Sheila if she would marry me, she said, ‘Would I?!’ To this day, I’ve never gotten an answer!” Pat laughed.
On June 30, 1979 the couple married. Extensive traveling due to Pat’s schedule meant that Sheila became Pat’s “right-hand” – a full-time homemaker and personal assistant, intent on making their “gypsy” lifestyle as comfortable and normal as possible.
Because Sheila actively supported Pat’s career before they married, she was well aware of how exhausting and dangerous his profession could be. She got the first taste of it when Pat broke his collarbone a month into their marriage. Suddenly, Sheila also added “nurse” to her resume. Both agreed that while the first year of marriage was difficult, the trials strengthened their relationship by forcing them to depend on each other.
The trials extended into the first years of their marriage. While Pat garnered success in his early days as a jockey, they were overshadowed by what he considered the lowest point of his life (and subsequently, marriage). “I abused drugs and alcohol, and I was a woman-beater. The Lord, in his graciousness, saved me from that.” In 1984, Pat became a born-again Christian, explaining “my life completely changed.” Seeing the positive change in her husband, Sheila became a Christian a year later. Over time their marriage was renewed, and Pat set out to lead and serve his family according to Biblical standards. While they both agreed that their marriage would be in shambles without their faith, they laugh when asked if God perfected their marriage. “There’s no such thing as a perfect marriage,” Sheila said.
In 2002, their church, Northeast Christian Church, encouraged its members to go out in their communities and make a change, starting with $100. Sheila excelled in the face of this challenge, and founded Mom’s Closet Resource Center, a “hand up” to single mothers in the community. The center is a resource for items such as food and clothing, but Sheila quickly points out that the real goal is to help these women discover God’s plan for their lives. When Pat retired from racing in 2005, the couples’ roles reversed: suddenly Pat was heavily involved in aiding his wife at Mom’s Closet, while Sheila consistently put in long days at the center. “All that you have is your gift from God. What you do with it is your gift to God,” Pat explained. Although Pat was retired, his schedule became a plethora of speaking engagements, including one as a spokesperson for Mom’s Closet.
While the Day’s lives aren’t as demanding as their days on the track, they are just as busy promoting Mom’s Closet and reaching out to those in the Louisville community. One of the highlights of life recently was the marriage of their only daughter, Irene, to Mike Reynolds last year. With an empty-nest, their brood expanded to 6 cats and 1 dog. The couple are enjoying this season of life – pursuing their passions and enjoying one another’s company. Both encouraged other couples to seek out their talents and do something constructive with them. For Pat, his fascination with horses turned into a successful career as a jockey. For Sheila, her spark and charisma made her an excellent candidate to jump-start a much-needed ministry. “God gives us all gifts,” Pat pointed out. “I was given the gift to ride. Out of that has come many opportunities for speaking engagements. I love talking about riding and horses – that was a huge part of my life. Sheila is an enormous part of my life. But Jesus Christ is my whole life. I can’t help but talk about it.”
“Read ‘His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage’ by Willard F. Harley, Jr.,” Pat insisted. “That’s the first book I recommend to anyone seeking marriage advice.”
“Agree early on to never use the word ‘divorce’ in your vocabulary,” Sheila said. “It’s a relief to know your spouse won’t leave you when you’re having a bad day.”
“Be quick to apologize,” Pat pointed out. Sheila coached on: “Say ‘I was wrong, I’m sorry, please forgive me, I love you.’ That goes a long way.”
“Pat sends out all his laundry!” Sheila cheered. “Am I happy? You bet.”
“Don’t marry someone to change them,” Sheila persisted. “God does that.”
“It’s a common piece of advice, but there’s so much truth to this: don’t go to bed angry,” Pat declared. “Especially because it irks the heck out of (Sheila) when I start snoring!”
“Don’t overlook the small things. There’s something so sweet about Pat helping out with the animals at home, or picking up the steaks for dinner while I’m at work,” Sheila noted. “He doesn’t have to do these things, but he does it to give me a break.”
Category: In Tandem