Okay, now you think I’ve truly lost my mind. You’re saying to yourself: “She wants to be like a horse? I don’t get it? Has she taken one too many beta blockers – and they are blocking not just the adrenaline but her sanity as well.” Well, the current blog post started with a car commercial I saw a few weeks ago.
There are a lot of commercials on television that either drive me away from the product, or that I just don’t get. This is especially the case with car commercials. The best example of an “I don’t get it” commercial is a Lincoln commercial featuring Matthew McConaughey. It opens with McConaughey staring with a brooding look into a swimming pool. Then he leaps backward. Just as he hits the water, the commercial shifts to McConaughey driving through a rainstorm. He is driving what I have learned is Lincoln's revamped 2017 MKZ sedan. The commercial ends with the line: "It's Like That."
I don’t know about you, but if the “it” is feeling drenched while driving or riding in a car, well I don’t want any part of “it”. If the “it” is the feeling of hitting the water, well that appears to be exactly what it would feel like if the airbag in the car deployed into the driver or passenger. I don’t want that “it” either. So I have learned to mute the television when the commercial appears so that I don’t feel compelled to lecture the narrator that the ad makes no sense!
But with a recent Audi commercial I heard the name “Secretariat” before I could reach for the mute button on the remote. I decided to listen. For one thing, Secretariat has the distinction of being one of a very few Triple Crown winners. But the commercial also intrigued me because I was present when Secretariat ran in the Preakness the second leg of his Triple Crown win. My high school marching band had been asked to play at the race track, and we were there when Secretariat won. What a memory! Even though it was just the second race of the triple crown, we knew that we were witnessing history.
So with my full attention to the TV screen, I wondered what Secretariat could have in common with an Audi vehicle. I listened with interest. The ad talks about what made Secretariat a winner. Various words are thrown out by the narrator as the camera switches back and forth between Secretariat running on a track and an Audi racing on a track. As the narrator continues to speak, the camera shifts to show two doctors looking at the x-rays of a heart. The narrator reveals that it wasn’t simply Secretariat’s strength or intelligence that made him stand apart. As the doctors continue to look at the heart, the narrator says: It was “a heart twice the size of the average horse.” Then it ends with the statement: "Progress Powered From Within.”
It is a captivating commercial, drawing you in with unforgettable pictures of arguably the greatest racehorse in action. The contrast between the racing car and the racing horse is also striking. So much so that perhaps most people do not stop and say – wait a minute, a car doesn’t have a heart? More to the point, most people are not like Melanie. Most people are not thinking that the fact that Secretariat had an enlarged heart might mean he was the victim of dilated cardiomyopathy. Could it be possible that Secretariat shared the same heart ailment that I am battling?
So I started doing my research. One of the first resources I found said that the average size of a horse’s heart is 9 pounds. Then I found a reference stating that Secretariat’s heart was 20 pounds. If these articles are correct, that means the Audi commercial is correct in its claim about Secretariat’s heart. In fact, later articles I found said that an autopsy showed Secretariat’s heart to be 22 pounds in weight. Since the size of a normal horse heart is reported by some experts to be just 9 or 10 pounds, a heart that is 20 pounds or more would be significantly bigger than the heart in an average horse.
Now I was really curious, as the research continued to raise the question of whether Secretariat was a victim of dilated cardiomyopathy. If so, how in the world did he become a triple crown winner with a diseased heart? Is there a distinction between having a heavier heart versus a heart that is bigger in area?
If a large heart can make Secretariat run faster than the other horses on the track, why is it that with an enlarged heart, I couldn’t run at all. I used to run 8Ks and 10Ks, but plain old cardiomyopathy, much less the dilated kind, keeps me from running at all.
According to the Mayo Clinic, dilated cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle, usually starting in your heart's main pumping chamber (left ventricle). The ventricle stretches and thins (dilates) and can't pump blood as well as a healthy heart can.
So just looking at the definition tells me that my enlarged heart is caused by a normal size heart stretching and compensating to keep up the pumping function. That seems to be a bit different than having a heart that weighs more but may not be stretched and thinned out.
So I did some more research. According to the website “Sport Horse Breeder” Secretariat's large heart was a function of the genetic trail from a mare named Pocahontas. The article relies on knowledge gained from a study of Secretariat’s pedigree conducted by a woman named Marianna Haun. There is quite a bit of detail regarding Secretariat’s lineage back to Pochahontas. Apparently geneticists believe the large heart trait may have been a mutation.
The article tells us that it has been known for over a hundred years that some thoroughbreds have larger hearts than the average horse. When good race horses died it was a common practice to bury their head and heart together. (Seriously, I did not make this up. I admit that my mind also immediately went to the next question: “What did they do with the rest of the horse?”).
Because the heart and head were buried together, I guess that caused people to take note when they came across a huge heart to be buried. Noteworthy, the article also said that it “is also known now that generally these big muscle pumps (large size heart) are not pathological - rather they are normal functioning but are just about twice as big: 12 to 20 pounds, as compared to the normal Thoroughbred heart which ranges between 7.5 and 8 pounds. (In other words, normal functioning means they are not stretched and thinned out like my heart is.) As an illustration, the big heart of a race horse is similar to “a car with a standard 4-cylinder engine compared to the same size car with a turbo V8. It is a bigger engine in the chest.”
From this quote, it appears that it is not just Audi that is struck by the comparison between horses and cars. But also note the comment that the big heart is not pathological. One definition of found of the term pathological is related to a disease. So my heart failure stems from cardiomyopathy which is a disease of the heart muscle. So here is a way to look at this. I can’t run in races anymore because my heart is diseased. Secretariat could run in and win races because his heart was dynamic.
But here is also the bottom line for me. We all run races of some type in our lives. Sometimes the goal is how fast you can run, like in a horse race. Sometimes the goal is how fast you can drive, like in a car race. Sometimes the goal is how many hot dogs you can eat in a short period of time (I never quite related to that one). And sometimes the goal is just to persevere and find a way to bring light into this world. That is the race that I started competing in four years ago. It’s not a run for the roses, but I think it’s a pretty worthy race. Even if I don’t win, at least I’ll be in competition for a medal.
Melanie discovered that she had heart failure in 2013. Since that time, she has been learning how to live with the condition, and how to achieve balance and personal growth.