by Mike Henry

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At least 12 Tampa Bay Downs jockeys won’t take their enviable athletic ability for granted when they get on their first horse Wednesday morning.

Or maybe ever.

A dozen riders fully outfitted in silks, breeches and boots visited All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg on an off-day this afternoon, delivering toys, stuffed animals, hats, coloring books and jockey goggles to kids with potentially life-limiting illnesses.

This was the second consecutive year Oldsmar jockeys have traveled to All Children’s, a division of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Their intention is to cheer the patients and their families, and while that certainly happened, it is the jockeys who were uplifted and reminded how much they have to be thankful about.

“It was a good experience. It made me appreciate the things that I have,” said jockey Chelsey Keiser after the visit. “Giving back always feels good, and it was cool to see the smiles on the kids’ faces.”

“It’s hard seeing a little kid that is sick, but we know that is part of life,” said Antonio Gallardo. “I feel happy that we can bring them presents and make a difference in their day.”

Joining Keiser and Gallardo were Jose Ferrer; Ademar Santos; Olaf Hernandez; Huber Villa-Gomez; Fernando De La Cruz; Eddie Joe Zambrana; Cecily Evans; Keiber Coa; Janelle Campbell; and Corey Mongan.

The visit was conducted by All Children’s Hospital Media Coordinator Roy Adams, who led the group through the Pediatric Medicine Floor, the Neuro-Sciences/Surgery Unit and the Infusion Center.

“We have a lot of athletes who visit our kids, including from the Tampa Bay Rays and Tampa Bay Buccaneers,” Adams said. “We love getting visits from the jockeys, and it is neat for our young ladies and children to see some female role models who are athletes.”

Evans, for one, is eager to explore new avenues to make a difference in people’s lives. “It’s really nice seeing how happy you can make someone feel,” Evans said. “We get so caught up in what we are doing, but having your health is what makes everything possible. Coming here makes you appreciate that.”

Mongan agreed. “Seeing the look on their faces after we gave them something is exactly what this season is about,” he said.

All Children’s Hospital is a leader in pediatric treatment, education, research and advocacy and provides expert care for infants, children and teens with some of the most challenging medical problems imaginable.