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Paula Besset of Encinitas, left, and Valley Center’s Laura Retoske at the Man Against Horse Race. Courtesy photo
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Sports Talk: Besset back on horse after setbacks

If covering sports long enough, one encounters competitions that some wouldn’t expect.

Anyone up for the Man Against Horse Race?

“It’s pretty cool,” Encinitas’ Paula Besset said. “It’s a one-of-a-kind deal.”

The cards Besset has been dealt weren’t all aces. Besset, a Torrey Pines High graduate, was bucked off her easygoing lifestyle by the one-two punch of a disintegrating relationship and breast cancer.

With this being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, we’ll shine the spotlight on Besset and her getting back on her feet.

“With the chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, I had to be strong and brave and say every day, ‘Get your tail out of bed and go exercise and move around,’ ” she said of the treatments that ended in July.

“When I did this race a couple months after breast cancer surgery, my friends said I was crazy, but it was the horses that kept me strong. My body is cooperating, and I push, push, push until I drop at night.”

The tug for this 50-mile, multi-day event in Prescott, Arizona, was that the runners started first and then the horses would try to compromise their lead. But every 45 minutes, the horses were required to have a mandatory veterinary check.

While making up ground, everyone makes sure the horses aren’t run into the ground.

“Everyone just cares about the horses and that they are OK,” said Besset, who rode Bella. “Endurance horse racing is just a cool sport — it’s mostly done in the Middle East — because there is no prize purse, no money involved.

“People just do it because of their pure passion for horses and the pleasure of doing something which is hard and is outside in nature.”

Besset has always been cozy around the stables. She grew up as a self-described tomboy, jumping in the saddle at every chance. She would go on to train horses and got a hands-on opportunity with California Chrome about five years ago when he was dominating the thoroughbred circuit.

But Besset, 55, drifted from the ponies she loved, lured away by Cupid’s arrows. When her fiance told her she had to pick between him and her four-legged friends, she stood by her man.

“I chose him over my dream career,” Besset said. “He’s now my ex-fiance.”

So Besset, despite battling health issues, was eager to nestle into the saddle once again. Not only did she complete the Man Against Horse Race but she’s entered in another long ride in November in Arizona, the Lead Follow or Get Out of My Way event.

There’s not much that can stop Besset and that’s the message of this column, as she longs to motivate others battling breast cancer and its aftermath.

Besset is looking ahead to the Nov. 14 race and a 100-mile trek next year.

“This is about survival and moving forward,” Besset said. “I’ve pushed through a lot of stuff that happened and I’ve tried to be strong and brave.

“And really, I’m thriving, and I would like to inspire others. I had to reveal some personal things, like having breast cancer, to possibly get other women to push forward. But I’m proof that if you push through the worst of times that you can turn it around, too.”

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected]. Follow him @jparis_sports