Pacing for the Cure

by Marvin Pave

Statistically, Mr Bill G is 4 years old, weighs between 1,200 and 1,300 pounds, and is into his first full season on the Delaware circuit with career earnings of more than $8,000.

Symbolically, he is the torch bearer for Pacing for the Cure, a non-profit charity founded in 2016 by his owners, Jeff and Janine Gesek of Burlington, N.J. Pacing for the Cure has raised more than $49,000 in its first two years for multiple sclerosis (MS) research and support for people living with MS, their caregivers and families in the harness racing community affected by the neurological disease.

Mr Bill G’s first race was Oct. 5, 2017, at Harrington Raceway, just one day after Jeff ’s father, Bill Gesek, the inspiration for Pacing for the Cure, died of MS after a courageous and dignified battle of more than 30 years.

“We had hoped to see Bill and Mr Bill G together in the winner’s circle one day,’’ said Jeff. “It wasn’t to be, however;

although last Sept. 27, when my dad was in home hospice, we told him Mr Bill G had officially qualified to race, and it brought a smile to his face.”

Born in New Freedom, Pa., Mr Bill G was not named after Bill Gesek. In October 2015, Jeff, who had purchased several Standardbreds over the years, was perusing the Standardbred Horse Sale’s yearling Black Book and saw a colt by Delmarvalous – Rafanelli that stood out: Mr Bill G.

Jeff and Janine felt it was more than a coincidence, put in a successful bid of $15,000, and subsequently founded Pacing for the Cure, whose website is www.pacingforthecure.org.

In February 2016, at the Stafford Stable, Bill Gesek and Mr Bill G met for the first time. It is a moment frozen in time for his family.

As they posed for a photo taken by Janine, Bill maneuvered his wheelchair next to his wife, Barbara, who placed her right hand on the horse and draped her left arm around her husband’s shoulder. “To this day,’’ Janine said, “I feel Mr Bill G sensed the connection.’’

In an interview with Hoof Beats that same year, Bill Gesek expressed a hope that “someday he makes enough money on the track to help people like myself.” Mr Bill G has been slow to race, but the program that Jeff and Janine have built around him has taken off. The central theme of their mission has never changed: “To inspire others to follow our journey with Mr Bill G, to create hope in finding a cure for MS and to believe that he was born to pace for a cure.”

Making big earnings in Mr Bill G’s case at this point is not the end-all, said Jody Stafford of the Ben Stafford Stable.

“He’s definitely developed a following and it’s been a great positive for everyone  involved,’’  said  Stafford.  “He’s a big horse, always happy, who likes to train and jog, but he has to mature a little bit more and we’ve taken our time with him.”

Some significant setbacks have kept the 4-year-old off the track, including in- juries to his hind leg while resting in his stall and a cut on his leg in 2016 that led Jeff to remark “my mom (Barbara) was the ultimate caregiver for my dad and Jody mirrors that in caring for Mr Bill G.” The  charity’s  branding  colors  are maroon  and  gray—the school  colors at Bill and Jeff Gesek’s alma mater, St. Joseph’s  University  in  Philadelphia.  In March, however, the gelding’s colors were orange and black, signifying MS Awareness Month.

Fundraising events, corporate sponsorships, donations from family and friends, and stud fees from Winbak, Diamond Creek, and Sugar Valley farms and Badlands Racing have led to $24,000 allocated to MS research and $4,000 for those in need of medical equipment and services.

Venues for upcoming fundraising events include Diamond Creek Farm in Wellsville, Pa., this month ( June); Sci- oto Downs in Columbus, Ohio; Ocean Downs in Ocean City, Md., in July; and The Meadows in Washington, Pa., in August. A third annual dinner party, Pacing  for  the  Cure’s  signature  event, will take place during the Standardbred Horse Sale in Harrisburg, Pa.

Many in the racing community, including several drivers, have also contributed to the cause that has steadily grown—from $17,000 in net proceeds in 2016 to another $32,000 in 2017.

Last year, an MS Walk Night at Scioto  Downs  and  Harrah’s  Philadelphia and a Night at the Philadelphia Phillies- Colorado Rockies baseball game helped benefit the charity.

Bill Gesek, a software entrepreneur from Mount Laurel, N.J., was a frequent visitor to Phillies spring training in Clearwater, Fla. He celebrated his 57th wedding anniversary with Barbara last fall just before passing.

This past March 24, Mr Bill G’s official foaling date, a William Gesek Memorial Race was held at the Meadowlands. Barbara Gesek was presented with Pacing for the Cure’s first annual caregiver award in the winner’s circle.

“We started our endeavor because of Bill, who inspired us,’’ said Janine, who was interviewed that evening by the track’s TV host, Dave Brower, “and now the torch has been passed to Mr Bill G.”

Janine hopes to write a book about the  family’s  experience  with  MS  and the founding of Pacing for the Cure. She and Jeff work in the healthcare industry, Jeff in corporate finance and Janine in consulting.

While the monetary returns to date have been modest, yet promising, Jody Stafford, whose family has been close to the Geseks for more than 25 years, said he has been moved by the response to Pacing for the Cure and Mr Bill G from individuals on and off the track.

“In terms of being a symbol, helping fundraising, and creating awareness, Mr Bill G is already a winner,” he said.

And the gelding, no matter what the future brings, will always have a home with the Geseks.

“Mr Bill G will never leave us,’’ Jeff said. “When the day comes when he cannot compete, Janine, Jody, and my- self will care for him the rest of his life.”

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