Former jockey Anthony Dlugopolski, a quadriplegic since a racing accident in 2002, died in a hospital near his home in Manchester, W.Va., of an apparent heart attack early Thursday morning, said his sister, Theresa, who lived with and cared for Dlugopolski. He was 60.
Theresa said she had been out of town for a week and they decided to go out when she returned. They were singing Karaoke until late and when they returned home, he decided to take his dog for a walk using his motorized wheel chair. When the dog returned alone, she went looking and found him near a neighbor's yard, unconscious. Rushed to a nearby hospital, she said he was soon pronounced dead.
“It was sad,” she said. “I can't believe it happened. But he hated sitting around the house all the time. He had a rough life and he had to take a lot of medicine, which was not easy. He hated it that someone had to take care of him all the time.”
Anthony was an avid hunter with specially built rifles and bows and an all-terrain wheelchair. Theresa said her brother had just had a friend clear brush from his hunting stand in hopes of adding to the trophies lining his living room walls.
In a 25-year career, spent mainly in Ohio and West Virginia, he rode 25,428 races and won 3,425. For many years he exercised horses early mornings at Mountaineer Park, drove to Pittsburgh International Airport where he loaded pallets onto airplanes until 5 p.m., then rushed back to ride races at night.
He suffered a myriad of injuries during the stretch drive of a race on a cold December day at Mountaineer Park when a horse in front of him clipped heels and fell. His mount hit the horse's outstretched legs and also fell, driving his C3 vertebrae in his spinal cord and leaving him little mobility below his neck.
Last June, he and Theresa traveled to Parx Racing near Philadelphia where he joined five other permanently disabled former jockeys as honorees at a Jockeys and Jeans fundraising event organized by a group of former jockeys to raise funds for the Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund. Along with some 60 other permanently disabled former jockeys, PDJF helped him with a $1,000 monthly stipend which he used to pay for his especially build van.
“He just loved being at the event,” said Theresa.“He said he hoped he could go to another one and this time speak, tell everyone how much they (PDJF) helped him.”
He once told this writer that when the pain in his feet was intense, “I'd pray myself to sleep.” He rarely missed Catholic Mass. Theresa said one of the last songs he sang the night he died was Eric Clapton's version of “Knockin' on Heaven's Door.”
Divorced for six years from his wife Pam, he has two children Chad and Nichole and four grandchildren. A funeral Mass is set for Tuesday at noon at Arners Funeral Chapel in Chester, W.Va. Viewing will be Sunday 2-4 p.m. and 6-8 p.m. The family has set up a donation page at the funeral home to assist in paying for the funeral costs. Click here for more information.
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