|Steven Nico, 53, of Long Valley|
Fellow New Jersey Horseplayer
"Another 2nd-place finisher today. Every day so far...incredible."
Ah, spoken like a true horseplayer.
You see, Steven -- under the pseudonym "scottsdad" -- was the Champion of this summer's Del Mar Online Handicapping Challenge.
As his runner-up, I can attest that Steven's victory was no easy feat; and based upon our futility in Del Mar's November tournament (which Steven referenced above; the first 4 horses he picked to win all finished 2nd), it took mettle to beat out thousands of generally anonymous, but highly skilled players for one of two coveted prizes.
See, the two of us -- both New Jersey guys -- captured our first-ever berths to the National Handicapping Championship, the Holy Grail for contest horseplayers, and exchanged emails in the weeks after taking down a virtual tournament, ironically, hosted 3,000 miles away.
Steven was the first to make contact after finding my email, flatteringly, through this blog.
Our conversations thereafter were light and bordered on giddy, ranging from flight plans to handicapping to jokes about whether the travel stipends would leave room enough on Del Mar's dime for us to enjoy a fine steak dinner out in Las Vegas (home to the NHC), or merely a cup of coffee.
Either way, we'd finally get to hang out and revel in our success through Del Mar.
Conflicting work schedules, family matters and personal commitments and some 50-60 miles of distance got in the way of a face-to-face meal or beverage here in New Jersey.
At the least, however, we were excited that we'd be in Vegas from Jan. 22-26, each getting a 1-in-500 shot at winning $1 million in a thoroughbred handicapping championship against real professionals.
In a cruel twist, a message with the subject "please read" arrived in my inbox late Wednesday.
I received an email from Steven's wife, Lucy, that her husband passed away on Tuesday after suffering a heart attack on Thanksgiving.
Steven Nico was 53.
The kinship I felt with this man, whom I had never met but shared a unique bond on account of something that may seem child's play to some but is serious business to others, helps to explain the heavy heart with which I share my short brushes with Steven.
Although I had my obvious suspicions about what "scottsdad" represented, from the obituary that Lucy shared it's abundantly clear that Steven's horseplayer pseudonym represented rich commitment as a husband and father to four children (Ilissa, Michael, Joseph and, yes, Scott).
I knew from our correspondence that Steven worked nights, but much as we do with many acquaintances in life sometimes we neglect the details.
According to a story on Long Valley Patch, Steven worked the night shift in order to care for his sons during daytime hours. Anyone who has worked nights (myself included) can attest that it's no easy task.
By this account, Steven's caring extended beyond his own kids and had to be part of the formula, I would suspect, for his job was as a Behavioral Supervisor at the Daytop of New Jersey in Mendham, a residential treatment center for teens in need of "comprehensive substance abuse treatment and education programs"
Seeing that kind of resume is a fresh reminder that I, along with others on the handicapping contest circuit, encountered a true gentleman who gave nothing but a first-place effort in life.
Please join me in keeping Steven and his family in your thoughts and prayers, and consider a small donation through this fundraiser started by his colleagues.