Kayla Stra is free again to move about the women’s jockey room at Hollywood Park, the longtime racetrack in Inglewood, Calif., the same neighborhood where the Fabulous Forum once housed LA’s Lakers and Kings.
Stra, 28, specifically is free to breast-feed her 7-month-old son, Brys, following an edict last Sunday by David Israel, chairman of the California Horse Racing Board, in which he lambasted the board’s stewards after Stra made public some of the stewards’ attempts to interfere with or prevent her from nursing her son at the workplace.
One of the offending stewards, a female, allegedly went so far as to suggest to the jockey’s agent that Stra would have to choose between being a mom or being a jockey.
“That’s what upset me the most,’’ Stra told U-T San Diego.
In his edict, which should be framed and hung in the front lobby of the Workforce Hall of Fame, Israel emphatically sided with Stra, her baby, and common sense — the latter of which folded up like a $500 claimer amid the stewards’ lamebrained attempt to shoo her and her son from the barn.
“Kayla Stra’s baby can be in the jocks’ room,’’ noted Israel. “Her nanny can be with the baby. And both the mother and the nanny can do all the things they need to do. The CHRB will not tolerate discrimination in any form against anyone for any reason. No special rooms. No one goes to the back of the damn bus. Period.’’
Back of the damn bus. Perfect both in point and pitch, especially for a racetrack, where talk is typically blunt.
According to Stra, Kim Sawyer was the steward who told the jockey’s agent, Richie Silverstein, that her nursing was not welcomed and that it was time to make a career choice. Israel’s missive made clear that choice was no choice in the matter.
“In order for a new mother to do her job,’’ he wrote, “certain accommodations need to be made. We clearly do not have a nursery at any of our racetracks, and I don’t expect them to be constructed any time soon. Not only can a jockey also be a mother, I’d like to encourage women to consider the possibility and the profession. It is the right thing to do and it is good business.’’
Stra, an Australian, has ridden on the Southern California circuit for a couple of years. Prior to breast-feeding Brys in the women jockey’s room, she typically nursed him in her car in the track’s parking lot. Stewards found Stra a separate room to nurse Brys, but that spot was some 150 feet away from the jockey’s room, a distance she deemed unsuitable, never mind not in keeping with California state law.
In a statement she issued in the wake of Israel’s decision, Stra noted that it was another steward, Scott Chaney, who banned her from the jockey’s room at Hollywood Park. His “exact words,’’ she wrote, were, “There are to be no babies or children in your jocks’ room or kitchen area anymore, anywhere. No one should be exposed to seeing a baby’s diaper changed.’’
The horror, a baby’s diaper being removed, in a workplace where unswaddled thoroughbreds relieve bladder and bowel in great volume at any time, any place, day or night, to the remark of absolutely no one. The standard racetrack warning is: Watch where you step — too bad if you don’t. Far too unrealistic to expect a racetrack’s tender assembled workforce to deal with a soiled Pamper.
In case anyone is having trouble following along here, all of this kerfuffle happened just recently, in the year 2013, and in California, a state known for free thinkers, progressive ways.
If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear a flower in your hair. If to Hollywood Park, what, a clothespin on your nose?
As Patty Bellasalma, president of the state’s branch of the National Organization for Women noted to the LA Daily News, “It’s not like she was breast-feeding on the horse.’’ Now there’s a shot for ESPN The Magazine’s Body Issue.
Tammi Piermarini, mom of three (ages 3 to 11) and Suffolk’s winningest female jockey, planned to breast-feed her first child, but ultimately nature took that decision off the board.
“I didn’t produce enough milk,’’ she recalled late last week. “So, that was that . . . back to work pretty fast. My second, I was back riding six weeks after a C-section. And my third, I was back in two weeks after a C-section. All of them went right on formula.’’
In nearly 30 years of racing, said Piermarini, 46, she hasn’t encountered another jockey nursing while on the job site. One jockey, she recalled, returned to work only after she was finished breast-feeding. Another jockey she worked with pumped her milk at home and brought it to work with baby in tow.
“I know Kayla and she’s a very nice person,’’ said Piermarini. “Sounds like someone got upset about something, but I don’t know those details. I think it could work. I wouldn’t have a problem with it. It’s about choice, right? If you’ve got a nanny there to take care of the baby while you’re riding, then fine. The only problem I’d have is if the baby cried and woke me up while I was trying to nap.’’
The crying is over at Hollywood Park. Stra and son have had their mother-and-child reunion, mom’s career remains intact, and, oh baby, the stewards learned a lesson they won’t soon forget.
“After all is said and done in regards to this issue that has arisen from having my baby in the lady jocks’ room,” wrote Stra, “I hope I can just get back to being ‘one of the boys’ again.’’