Sydney jockey Tommy Berry has shared his deeply personal journey of self-discovery that emerged during his eight-month ban from riding that allowed him to confront and come to terms with the tragic loss of his twin brother, Nathan.
Berry, aged 32, found himself serving an eight-month suspension for what was termed ‘improper dealings’ with a punter.
During the ban, he sought solace in the serene surroundings of a turf farm and It was during these months away from the racetrack that Berry began his journey towards emotional recovery.
At the tender age of 23, Nathan suffered a critical medical episode while in Singapore in 2014, necessitating an induced coma due to a rare condition linked to epilepsy.
The loss of his twin was a devastating blow to Tommy, who had lost not only a brother but also his closest friend and fellow jockey.
Prior to this tragic incident, the Berry twins had been beloved figures in the world of horse racing. The loss of Nathan left Tommy profoundly grief-stricken, but he was resolute in his determination to carry on racing as a tribute to his late brother.
Tommy Berry had plenty of soul searching to do while he was banned from racing for eight months in January
Berry with his twin brother Nathan during happier days when they were children
However, it was during his enforced hiatus from racing, after his ban in January, that Tommy Berry realised that something within him needed to change.
‘I never took any time off after Nathan passed,’ Berry told Nine’s The Heart of Racing podcast.
‘Not taking any time off after he passed, and just trying to work through it, I thought I was trying to do the right thing. It’s been nine years now and it’s the first break I’ve had.
‘In that time I turned into a person I never thought I’d be, and never wanted to be.
‘In the time I had off I’ve been able to reflect on the nine years since he’s been gone, and if I could say I was proud of the person I was or I became since he was gone… I definitely wasn’t.
I’ve had to go back to what me happy when he was here, and the person I was… I haven’t liked myself for a long time
‘I had to get back to the person that I was when he was around, and that was hard because when he was here everything seemed easy. I had my best friend there, a guy I could turn to at any stage.
‘Since he’s been gone – and it sounds selfish because I’ve four beautiful kids and a wife – but my life hasn’t felt complete for a long time, and I’ve had to come to terms with that it never will without him here.
‘I’ve had to go back to what me happy when he was here, and the person I was… I haven’t liked myself for a long time. ‘
He openly admits that during this period, he was ‘drinking a lot,’ a behavior that, while not seriously impacting his professional riding, was taking a toll on his personal relationships.
‘One thing is not having any emotion, not having any feeling. When you lose someone that you love so deeply, and it’s hurt you so much, your feelings switch off and you start to not feel anything,’ he said.
‘You don’t have any emotions, your emotions are switched off, it’s like you are dead inside. That’s the way I felt for quite a while.
‘When you don’t have emotions you make decisions in life that you don’t really care for the consequences so much. I hurt people – whether it was family or friends – over that nine years.
‘I had to look at myself and go ‘that’s not you, you’re not that person, you’re better than that’. ‘
Berry was a prolific winner before his shock ban, but said the time away from the sport had been just what he needed
Berry is now back in the saddle and competed in The Everest earlier this year in Sydney
Berry made a triumphant comeback by riding Mazu in The Everest, the world’s most prestigious turf race.
Tommy Berry’s return to racing has been met with further success, with multiple wins during the Sydney carnival over the past month.
‘I’ve got to liking myself again and doing things that made me happy, made my family happy,’ he said.
‘I’ve come back into racing now a different person – feeling good, fit, fresh, happy.
‘That’s not only showing in my riding, but I think everyone can see that’s had anything to do with me.
‘It’s taken me nine years and a disqualification… things happen for a reason and for me (the suspension) was a turning point, it gave me time to grieve. ‘