TODAY'S PAPER
60° Good Evening
60° Good Evening
Long IslandSuffolk

'He is a fighter,' says wife of rider with spinal injury from fall at Hampton Classic

Irish rider Kevin Babington and Shorapur won the

Irish rider Kevin Babington and Shorapur won the 39th annual Hampton Classic Grand Prix in Bridgehampton on Aug. 31, 2014. Photo Credit: SocietyAllure.com/Rob Rich

Dianna Babington sits up at night replaying the moment that changed her life forever and can't stop contemplating, "why?"

Why her husband, Kevin Babington, an accomplished rider, fell off his horse when competing in the Hampton Classic Horse Show last week. 

Why a man so empathetic that he would stop his car to move turtles off the roadway or gives antibiotics to an ill fish, could be burdened with a catastrophic spinal cord injury.

And how the life she knew and loved could change so much so quickly.

"My husband is the best of humanity," Dianna Babington, 51, said in an interview with Newsday on Friday morning. "He abhors suffering of any kind. I can't get my head around this. But bad things happen to good people."

The 51-year-old Irish Olympic show jumper was hurt on Aug. 30 after falling off his horse, Shorapur, during the Grand Prix qualifying round of the elite riding competition in Bridgehampton. While his spinal cord was severely injured, it was not severed.

On Tuesday, Babington underwent a five-hour surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center to stabilize the bones in his neck. He is out of the cervical collar and hopes to soon come off the ventilator but is yet unable to walk or speak, Dianna Babington said.

It's too soon to know if he suffered permanent paralysis, but Babington is optimistic, holding out hope that the swelling in his spinal cord and soft tissue will decrease. Babington and her two daughters, Marielle, 13, and Gwyneth, 16, are looking at clinical trials and breakthrough new treatments.

"Kevin is a fighter," she said. "We are hearing stories of all kinds of treatment and people who walk again after these kinds of injuries. There is hope."

Born and raised in Ireland, Kevin Babington is the youngest of 11 siblings, the son of a wool merchant and politician, according to a biography on his website. At age 11 he took his first riding lesson and was instantly hooked, training at an elite riding academy.

In 1987, he came to the United States to work as a riding instructor at a Vermont summer camp and eventually took a full-time riding position at Chado Farm, in Neshanic Station, New Jersey, honing his skills and meeting his future wife, herself an amateur rider, at a horse show in Pennsylvania.

During his successful equestrian career, Babington was part of the 2001 Irish gold medal team at the European Championships in Holland; finished eighth individually at the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain, and fourth in the 2004 Athens Olympics. Most recently he rode Shorapur to victory at Lake Placid Horse Shows in June.

But while Babington is an accomplished equestrian, trainer and businessman — buying and selling horses — Dianna says her husband's humble, kind and private acts garner less notice.

She says he's the consummate gentleman who at wedding always asks the bride's grandmother to dance. The trainer who doesn't charge the young protégé for lessons when he can't afford to pay. The neighbor who stops to repair a horse trailer with a flat tire. And the animal lover who became a vegetarian because he found slaughter of animals impossible to support.

"I never imagined anything like this could ever happen," said Babington, who recently moved her family from Pennsylvania to a village in Florida just west of Palm Beach. "This is just about as bad of an injury as could happen."

Since the accident, the Babingtons have been sleeping in a hotel in Manhattan. Dianna spends nearly every waking hour at her husband's bedside, taking an occasional break to update friends, family and supporters of Kevin's condition via her Facebook page.

Gwyneth attends an online high school, and Marielle was in the process of enrolling in a similar program for the fall. But the girls have found it next to impossible to focus on their studies, their mother said.

"We all have our moments but they are fearless, cleaning up their father's hospital room and studying every possible treatment for their father," she said.

But the medical bills are mounting and the family does not have disability insurance. While Kevin was professionally successful, the family is far from rich. Dianna, who works as her husband's assistant, fears that her husband's medical and rehabilitation bills will evaporate their savings in short order.

A friend, Sissy Wickes, started a Facebook fundraiser that has raised just under $450,000 in less than a week. A GoFundMe page, started by another friend, Kathy Gilbert, has raised $52,000 to date.

Gilbert noted that the family was generous to a fault, opening their Florida barn on the day of the accident to accept horses who were in need of shelter from Hurricane Dorian.

"These are kind people who selflessly did for others and now need our help," Gilbert wrote in the online fundraising pitch. "Kevin is a humble man of humble means, who rides for a living and has spent his entire life helping other people and animals."

Dianna Babington says the outpouring of financial and emotional support from all corners of the globe has been overwhelming and has raised Kevin's spirits.

"If there is anyone who is going to fight through this it's Kevin," she said. "He is a fighter. He is an athlete. He is a champion."

Comments

We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

Latest Long Island News