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"And Jesus said to them, 'Go into all the World and preach the Gospel to every creature.'

Mark 16:15, NKJV"

Jockey who Saved Child Wins RTCA

2004 White Horse Award   

     John Woodley, a jockey and sometimes exercise rider at Fairmont Racetrack in Southern Illinois, won the Race Track Chaplancy of America’s second White Horse Award Thursday, October 28, at Lone Star Park at Grand Prairie for rescuing a child inside a fiery mobile home. 

     Woodley was home nursing a knee injured in a morning training accident and getting ready for bed in his Collinsville, Illinois mobile home on July 14, 2004 when he heard an explosion. Taking only the time to put on a pair of shorts and sneakers, he raced to one of his neighbors’ mobile home to see about three quarters of it engulfed in flames. According to published reports, Jillian Shirley was standing outside with two of her four children screaming, “Two of my babies are still inside.”

     Jennifer Saxton, a reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat in nearby Belleville, Illinois, said she and a friend were driving past, saw the flames and drove onto the scene. She said that an interested crowd had gathered and were watching.

      “It was pretty nuts,” she said. “There he (Woodley) was with no shirt and only shorts on ripping open screens and breaking open windows. The mobile home was one big bonfire.”

       Woodley said he made repeated attempts to go inside, but each time the heat drove him back. After he heard the moans of a child, he said he had to go in. He dove through the window and crawled toward the child. “The roof was on fire and pieces of burning insulation kept falling on my head,” he said. “But I saw a foot and grabbed it.”

     He passed the child out the window and retreated, not knowing the location of the second child. The child’s father appeared on the scene and knew the location of the crib holding his 18 month old son, Zach Phegley. The father went through the same window, pulled the child from his bed and handed him to Woodley, who said the child was lifeless when he passed him on to a fireman.

     Sadly Zach died from burns, but 3-year-old Austin Phegley, who Woodley pulled to safety, suffered only minor injuries. 

     The fire totally destroyed the mobile home. Fire officials believe the blaze started from candles burning, used by the family because the home had no electricity.

     Woodley is the second winner. Leigh Gray, the inaugural winner, climbed over the back of a Santa Anita carriage to pull up a team of horses heading for the starting gate filled with horses after the driver fell from the carriage when the horses spooked from fireworks.

      The Race Track Chaplaincy of America, founded in 1971, sanctions and oversees 55 Chaplains who serve at 86 tracks in the U.S. and Canada.


For more information contact Ed Donnally at (310) 419-1640 or email edonnally@racetrackchaplaincy.org

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