This article was published in The Rural on 4 March 2022.
Blake Gatt celebrated his 30th birthday last week.
Reaching this personal milestone is normally a momentous occasion for anyone, but for the young greyhound trainer and owner it is even far more significant, because the unexpected turn of events of 10 years ago meant it looked like he may not survive the night.
A freak accident in a suburban backyard in Wollongong changed the Dapto local’s life forever.
“I was just at a mate’s house for a barbeque and unfortunately my best mate’s dad’s [skid-steer loader] tipped over and I happened to be in the wrong spot at the wrong time,” Gatt said.
The skid-steer loader fell on Gatt, and the weight of the machine crushed the C4 and C5 vertebrae in his back, leaving him a quadriplegic.
“Early on it was tough, you know, learning a whole new way of life, learning to basically live again,” Gatt said.
“It was very hard.”
But sometimes in life, as Blake has discovered, from great adversity comes great opportunity.
Gatt had always been a keen greyhound enthusiast, but a big win on the punt became the catalyst to embark on a new challenge with his dad Gary Eslick.
The pair joined forces to train and race dogs, with Eslick admitting he was a bit slow out of the boxes in their early months.
“He [Blake] chucked me into the deep end one day, and we’re up to year six or something now,” Eslick said.
“I wasn’t really thinking about greyhounds.
“We used to go fishing a lot early days, so it’s just been good, keeps us together. Gives us something to talk about.”
Working together as a team, the arrangement was simple. Eslick would do the physical training and race day duties, with Gatt providing insights and advice from the sidelines.
After all, when it comes to sports training and strategy, two heads are always better than one.
A dog by the name of Mcdiesel was their first purchase, and with his second start at Nowra he produced the pair’s first ever winner.
“I still remember that day coming back from the 365m boxes. Everyone at the track knew it was his [Blake’s] dog and there must have been 20 people around him congratulating him. That’s what it’s all about,” Eslick said.
The new venture has also strengthened the father-son bond and is helping them both overcome the tragic events of a decade ago.
“We’ll talk about what races are coming up; whether we want to trial on a slip track or trial them on the track.
“I trialled a dog this morning and straight away I came home and showed him the trial ticket so we talk about that. We’re always discussing things,” Eslick said.
The likes of free-for-all bitch Mac Olga, Perfect Everest and Charging Tracy are now the kennel’s pride and joy, with Gatt relishing his role in the chasing industry.
“I think it’s just a great opportunity. Your dogs become your companions, you surround yourself with good people, it’s just a good sport really. The time I spend on form or the time I spend looking at races, when your dog wins a race you set it for, it’s very satisfying,” Gatt said.
“It just gives me something to work for in life so it’s not all doom and gloom. You’ve got something to wake up for every morning, basically,” Gatt said.
To watch the full story on Blake Gatt and Gary Eslick, head to thedogs.com.au.
For more stories, visit https://greyhoundfacts.com.au/news/