The winning photo of jockey Frank Fuentes was taken by Patti Tubbs at Hastings Racecourse. The image of the mud-covered jockey

Seeing life through a brand new lens

Patti Tubbs is the first Western Canadian — and the first woman since 1985 — to win Sovereign photography award

Her story is one of tragedy, personal health issues and broken dreams. It is also one of unimaginable courage and perseverance.

While Patti Tubbs may no longer be able to saddle up and ride like she used to, the 48-year-old single mother surviving on a $900 disability pension, recently rode off into the sunset with a pretty  nice award.

The Abbotsford resident, who makes ends meet by delivering pizza  and occasionally selling one of her racing-related photos at Hastings Racecourse, was honoured with the 2013 Jockey Club of Canada Sovereign Award in the photography media category presented in Toronto on April 11.

Her winning entry — a candid shot of muddy-faced veteran jockey, Frank Fuentes, heading back to the winner’s circle after a victory at Hastings Racecourse — captures a frozen moment of victory. It’s a feeling Patti, herself, is still digesting.

“I was absolutely shocked when I heard my name announced,” said Patti, who has been entering that particular awards category for the past three years and has been following Fuentes around for the past year to get her ‘perfect’ shot.

“I did think the photo was one of my best ones, but winning was something I never expected. I still can’t really believe it.”

The man in front of the lens is a big fan of the winning portrait, she adds.

“Frank loved it — that pic just says I love my job, even in the mud. He has been a really good sport about letting me follow him around.”

Despite being born without a hip socket, Patti managed to work as a youngster in the barns at Hastings Racecourse for her mother Maureen, a respected trainer in a small stable. Patti’s father Gerry and brother Chris were outriders. It was 1999 when things turned upside down in the Tubbs’ family.

Maureen was driving her minivan to work from their farm in Aldergrove when a speeding car ran a red light at Cassiar and Hastings Street, just minutes away from the racetrack. Maureen died at the scene.

“It was a really tough time,” recalled Patti of the accident that turned her entire world upside down.

“I was struggling both emotionally and physically. I had 37 surgeries, 34 of them on my legs. I simply couldn’t continue doing physical work at the racetrack anymore but there was no way I was going to give up the life I loved, being around horses and the people in the industry.”

Rather than abandon the race track, which has been a second home for Patti for most of her life, she discovered a whole new appreciation for the horses and the people in the industry behind the lens of her daughter’s unused camera.

“I bought a camera for my daughter (Amanda)— she wanted to take photography at school,” she said.

“It didn’t pan out, so I picked it up and started snapping shots during morning workouts and eventually trainers, owners, jockeys, grooms and hot walkers began supporting me by purchasing them.”

Gerry, who was watching online from his home at 100 Mile house, was the first to call and congratulate her on her victory.

“My dad was jumping up and down and scared his dog,” she laughed.

“He was really proud of me…. I think we were both crying, I don’t remember.”

Joining Patti in person at the awards dinner was Amanda, 20, who works as a server for Boston Pizza in Aldergrove.

The two made the 3,300-km trip from Vancouver to Toronto — it was only the second time the two had ever been on an airplane. To help the women make the trek, a horse owner who doesn’t wish to be identified donated the airfare for Patti, while other contributions from Hastings horsemen helped cover hotel and food costs.

“It was so nice to have her there with me — she is my best friend,” said Patti.

“It wouldn’t have happened without so many of my friends at Hastings helping out with the funding.”

In addition to the award, a race on opening day at Hastings Racecourse last Sunday (April 26) has been designated in her name.

“We all want Patti to know how proud we are of her accomplishments,” said Hastings Racecourse general manager Darren MacDonald.

“Patti is the first photographer from Western Canada to win a Sovereign Award and the first female winner since 1985.”

Not having her own mother around to help celebrate her accomplishment, hasn’t been easy for Patti. However, she takes comfort in knowing she’d be delighted.

“She would have given me a big hug and cried with me… I know she’d be very proud.”

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