Aaron Merriman was North America's leading dash harness racing driver before he was severely beaten up in a four-horse pile-up at The Meadows on June 11 last year. In 2009, the year before, his 706 victories (a career best) ranked him third among all drivers in North America.
But last year’s fall was no ordinary fall. For Merriman it was life-threatening and even now some 17 months later it is still taking its toll on him both physically and mentally.
Merriman was rushed to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh after horses had piled over the top of him. He suffered severely broken wrists. One hand was almost completely ripped from his arm.
He said as he was lying on the track and looking at his arm - the wrist broken so badly his hand was pinned against his forearm.
That he said that was his most traumatic memory of that unforgettable afternoon.
But even after escaping death Merriman said he still loved driving and was keen to get back where he was before the accident. But he’s also a realist.
“It’s not going to happen over night. It’s going to take time. The pain never goes away. I’m still feeling my way back and like the doctors said it will be a long road back. I’ve taken it a bit easier this year and I’d say I’m still about 80 per cent healed,” Merriman told Harnesslink.
“There’s a lot you have to go through both physically and mentally. One thing I know is I’m full of metal. I’ve broken both wrists and had many injuries before this latest fall. They all take there toll,” he added.
But even doctors were surprised at Merriman’s extra quick recovery. He was back in the sulky by October 2010 - at Northfield Park on Friday the 15th.
Since then Merriman admits it’s been a cautious and ‘tentative’ return, adding he preferred to take it one race at a time.
He described 2011 as “sub-par”. That’s some comment considering he has already won $3.1 million which includes 359 wins and 757 placings from 2,678 starts (as at November 4).
“I think by next year I should be back to where I want to be and that is the top five in the nation. I was the leading driver in the Continent when the accident happened. I know I can get back there again,” the 33-year-old said.
Despite his injuries last year Merriman was second in all three categories at Northfield Park in 2010. For four consecutive years before that (2006-2009) he was driving champion at the track. He’s also won three driving titles at Northfield Park in Toledo, also in Ohio.
So how did Merriman achieve 4,865 wins and $22,246,055 from 39,708 starts?
“My mother is a College professor, who is currently working in England and my father is Lanny, who has driven more than 1,200 winners and trained more than 500 winners.
“Originally I was going to go to College. I might have done a month there, and even though I didn’t like horses much early on they grew on me to the point where I wanted to do work with them. I started out with Dad and it’s all gone from there.”
Merriman was 16 when he first jogged a horse and was nearly 20 when he drove in his first pari-mutuel race. The Cuyahoga Falls (Ohio) native currently splits his time between The Meadows and Northfield Park.
“Even though I live in Northfield I drive mostly at The Meadows. I love racing on my home track but the stakes and racing is so good in Pennsylvania. It’s worth the four hour drive there and back,” Merriman said.
Here’s some information about Aaron E. Merriman:
Born? Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.
Birthday? June 30, 1978.
Height? 5 foot 11 inches.
Colors? Gold, red and white.
Girlfriend? Tessa Koran.
Children? Eight-year-old son Kristopher.
Previous jobs? Worked as a Krispy Kreme counter boy, serving donuts and coffee.
Biggest wins: Palazzo Princess winning the 2009 Kentucky Sires Stakes Final at the Red Mile. That was worth $300,000 – and last year’s $109,000 Courageous Lady at Northfield with 3-year-old filly pacer Sand Windsor. The year before also with Upfront Hannahs Boy in the Cleveland Classic.
Best horse driven? Wow that’s too tough to answer. Let’s just say that Midnight Jewel (1:49.1) was the horse that jump-started my career. She won 25 races one year and 96 all up. She’s the one horse that sticks in my mind.
Favourite food? Crab legs and lobster.
Pets? Two dogs, Parker and Smokey Joe.
Favorite TV Shows: All sports. I’m a sports fanatic and “Rob ‘and Big” on MTV.
Favorite hockey team? Cleveland Bruins.
Favorite baseball team? Cleveland Indians.
Favorite basketball team? Cleveland Cavaliers.
Favorite football team? Ohio State Buckeyes.
Other sports? All sports. I like to play golf.
(Some information courtesy of the United States Trotting Association’s Fanguide).
By Duane RANGER (editor)
(1) Aaron Merriman winning the $300,000 Kentucky Sires Stakes Final with Palazzo Princess at the Red Mile on September 6, 2009:
(2) Two very different videos of Aaron Merriman’s hometown of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio:
(3) Aaron Merriman enjoys watching “Rob and Big”
(4) Aaron Merriman is a huge Cleveland sports fan. Here are his beloved Cleveland Indians baseball team in action: