In 1998, Patrick Smithwick turned 47, an age his father never reached. Legendary steeplechase jockey A.P. "Paddy" Smithwick was just 46 when he died of lung cancer in 1973.
Living longer than his father prompted Smithwick to scrutinize his orderly life. He was director of public relations at Gilman School. He was the married father of three children. Middle age was not looking too bad.
But he decided to shake things up. He returned to steeplechase riding after being away from the exhilarating but dangerous sport for almost 30 years.
Now 61, Smithwick, of Monkton, has published "Flying Change: A Year of Racing and Family and Steeplechasing."
The 342-page book chronicles the nine months it took to him to go from sitting on a leather chair in an office to straddling a leather saddle as he rode in the 1999 Hunt Cup, the most difficult of Maryland's steeplechase races. His prior Hunt Cup ride was in 1968.
Smithwick's racing itch started when he was asked to ride in a reunion race at the Grand National steeplechase on Butler Road in Glyndon. It was for riders who had raced in it 25 years before.
"It was just a fun race, but being in it was like an addiction," he said. "As soon as I was riding, I thought, 'Ahh. This is so cool.' I was hooked."
He pulled out his father's old boots, whip, spurs and saddles and began training.
"This book is really about integration. I always saw things in black and white," Smithwick said. "I thought if I did horses, I couldn't do other things because the horse lifestyle is very demanding and draining. It took me a while to realize I could ride again and still be a husband, father and writer."
The book has 22 chapters, one for each jump at the Hunt Cup's four-mile course off Tufton Avenue in Glyndon. Each chapter begins with Smithwick and his father's brother, Mickey Smithwick, walking the Hunt Cup course.
"Uncle Mickey," a trainer and rider who won the Hunt Cup six times, gave his nephew a lifetime's worth of advice on what to expect as rider and horse approach each jump.
"This book reads wonderfully. Patrick certainly knows what he's talking about. He's lived steeplechasing his whole life," said Margaret Worrall, author of "100 Runnings of the Maryland Hunt Cup."
While Smithwick's book has plenty of details to satisfy horse-lovers, he said it is mostly written for the "non-horsey" reader.
Towson attorney Carl Gold is one of those readers who said the horse world provided the backdrop for what he described as a "wonderful book about our capacity to accept the imperfect way we were all created."
Gold, who called himself an "addictively avid reader," was one of many of Smithwick's friends who gave him feedback on early versions of the book.
This is Smithwick's second memoir. In 2006, he released "Racing My Father," filled with stories about galloping horses at East Coast racetracks and riding in steeplechase races with his larger-than-life father.
Smithwick has a Master of Arts degree in creative writing from Hollins College in Roanoke, Va. He spent a year dredging for oysters in the Chesapeake Bay and then worked for several newspapers in Easton.
He taught at Oldfields School, St. Paul's School for Girls, Gilman School, Johns Hopkins' School of Continuing Studies and Goucher College. He currently teaches English and heads the English department at Harford Day School.
Smithwick said his ambition has always been to write a trilogy.
He hasn't started the next book yet, but has stacks of journals in which he has written important and mundane happenings since he rode in that 1999 Hunt Cup.
Smithwick will speak at Oldfields School, 1500 Glencoe Road, Sparks, on April 24 at 7 p.m.
He will sign and sell books at Ivy Bookshop, 6080 Falls Road, Baltimore, on April 25 from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. and at Greetings & Readings in Hunt Valley Towne Centre on June 2 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.
His book is available online, in book stores, or through his website, http://www.flyingchangememoir.com.