This one’s for you, Tom Mosca

Published 12:33 pm Friday, April 17, 2009

Tom, and his equally tall and attractive wife, Lorraine, always appeared like royalty of some kind, vital and vibrant, involved with everyone and everything as they strode around the Steeplechase track for so many years.

&bsp;His walkie-talkie inevitably in hand, Tom has been a vital part of the venerable Block House Steeplechase, working at every job, mastering every position, from grunt in the parking lot, directing traffic, to Chairman of the Steeplechase, a position he held formally for 12 years and informally for many more.

&bsp;Sadly, those days have come to an end for Tom Mosca.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

&bsp;About three years ago, Tom began to experience pain in his neck.

Thinking the pain was just normal wear and tear; he ignored it for a while. But after an acupuncturist friend treated him, she commented, &dquo;There&squo;s something wrong here, and you need to check it out.&dquo; So he did and the news was not good. In fact, it was both terrible and terrifying. Tom had contracted Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig&squo;s disease, so called after the famous baseballer who was also a victim of the progressive degenerative neuromuscular disease. There is no known cure and doctors aren&squo;t even sure what causes ALS, suffice it to say it is a terminal, debilitating and horrible way to end one&squo;s life.

Lorraine Mosca has been at Tom&squo;s side for more than 30 years. She is still standing there solidly now. Lorraine took early retirement from her job as an elementary teacher at O.P. Earle Elementary School so she could take care of Tom as he battles ALS. Like Tom, Lorraine is upbeat, positive, but realistic. &bsp;

Lorraine Mosca says, &dquo;After three months of evaluations (at Duke University) the diagnosis of ALS was confirmed. We were devastated, shocked, and determined to do everything we could to control the progression of the disease.&dquo;

But the disease progressed steadily and just a few short months later, Tom and Lorraine decided to retire to enjoy and spend time with each other and their family and friends, &dquo;We decided to travel and enjoy life,&dquo; says Lorraine, &dquo;since his diagnosis we cruised the Caribbean, Alaska&squo;s Inland Passage, and on the Queen Mary 2 up the new England and Canadian coasts. We also visited Portland, Oregon, Denver, Colorado, the Monterey Peninsula, and Carmel. We also visited the eastern shores of Maryland, Boston, Cape Cod, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. We visited friends in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Washington on the Olympic Peninsula.&dquo;

Traveling has become too difficult for Tom now and so he rests at home, visited by Hospice of the Carolina Foothills volunteers twice weekly and watching all the news that&squo;s fit to be seen.

But when he was still back in his favorite vocation/avocation as Steeplechase Chairman, Tom had to be ready to do anything and everything, from making sure the stalls for the visiting racehorses were ready, to appearing before television cameras and radio and newspaper interviews throughout the Carolinas.&bsp; He was also heavily involved in the Charlotte Steeplechase, the Queen&squo;s Cup, which he helped get off the ground. In fact, last year the founders of the Charlotte Queens Cup took the unusual step of permanently dedicating the first race of their steeplechase and naming it the &squo;Thomas M. Mosca Sr. Hurdle.&squo; &bsp;

&dquo;Tom has been instrumental from the early days when we announced that Charlotte would have its own steeplechase,&dquo; says Bill Price, vice president of the Charlotte Steeplechase Association. &dquo;He offered up his services to help us in all aspects of the event from designing the parking spaces to initiating a comprehensive security and safety program to protect our patrons from the hazards of tailgating around race horse activities.&dquo; Mosca served as race chairman for that steeplechase as well and helped get that race off to a great start. The Queens Cup is now in its 14th year.

&dquo;Tom took his work very seriously,&dquo; says media coach and speech trainer Marge Warder, who worked with Tom, preparing him for TV and radio shows. &uot;He was easy to work with, a fast learner and dedicated to making sure that his message came across well.&dquo;

Still, Tom&squo;s first love was always closer to home, The Block House.

&dquo;Tom really was devoted to the Tryon Riding and Hunt Club and the Steeplechase,&dquo; says Cynthia Boyle, longtime TRHC member. &dquo;Tom gave the steeplechase his all, at great personal sacrifice.&dquo; Boyle estimates that Tom Mosca has been instrumental in helping to raise as much as one million dollars for local charities that are the recipient of the Tryon Riding and Hunt Club&squo;s donations, money that comes as a result of the Block House Steeplechase.

Tom says he got his start as a fluke, doing a favor for his good friend, local veterinarian Jerry Dorsam, who asked him to park cars.

&dquo;After having a couple of years of parking cars under my belt, I found there were additional places to park cars that weren&squo;t being used. So we expanded parking spaces and increased our revenue. It was a goal of ours to increase the revenues so that we could increase the amount that we can give to charity.&dquo;

Tom says the steeplechase became very important to him when he realized how instrumental the race could become as a source of recognition and revenues for the entire community. &bsp;

Tom was trained as a CPA and worked for a software company, but he said working with the steeplechase was a lot more fun and more rewarding.

&dquo;I felt one of the more important accomplishments that we started was a much improved safety plan where we literally have EMT first responders at each fence over the race course.&dquo;

Like all those who have worked with Tom Mosca over the years, Mitzi Lindsey and her daughter, Laura Weicker, who is now the executive director of the Tryon Riding and Hunt Club, have respect and admiration for the man who is credited with making the steeplechase such a success, &dquo;He could get anybody to do anything&dquo; says former TRHC executive director Mitzi Lindsey, &dquo;He was fantastic to work with. Easy going. Understanding.&dquo;

&bsp;&dquo;Tom&squo;s passion for the Block House races is contagious,&uot; adds Laura Weicker. &dquo;He has a way about him that exudes strength and confidence. It never mattered how big or small the problem, Tom calmly handled every issue in a quiet, dignified manner.&dquo;

Tom is handling his illness the same way, with dignity and a clear vision of reality, one that is not pleasant. In their usual manner, Tom and Lorraine are coping valiantly.

When Tom and Lorraine met on Long Island, Tom was a Marine Corps child who had lived everywhere. The couple moved to the Columbus area in 1978, where they reconnected with childhood friend Kerry Holmberg.

&dquo;I first met Tom Mosca more than forty years ago in New York,&uot; says Holmberg. &uot;His wife Lorraine and I used to hunt with the Smithtown Hunt. When he arrived (here in North Carolina) Lorraine&squo;s parents dubbed him &squo;Tom Terrific&squo; and he was always helpful and friendly and everyone who met him loved him immediately.&dquo;

Holmberg continues, &dquo;Tom got involved with the Block House Steeplechase and gave it his all. He learned the sport by getting involved with the National Steeplechase Association and becoming friends with its members. He made the races a personal event with care and a personal touch. His influence will be felt forever with the Block House Races.&dquo;

Tom&squo;s declining health forced him to scale back and step down from the chairmanship position in 2007. Former airline pilot and American Airlines vice president Warren RauHofer took over after serving as Tom&squo;s apprentice for several years. RauHofer says, &dquo;I&squo;ll tell you the kind of guy Tom Mosca is. When I took over as chairman, he didn&squo;t come to the steeplechase, an event I know that he loves. He didn&squo;t come because I know he was afraid people would come to him and ask him questions instead of coming to me. I knew he didn&squo;t want to steal my thunder. Tom really wanted me to take the bows.&dquo;

Passing down the torch from Tom to Warren wasn&squo;t as easy as it might seem, says RauHofer, &dquo;Tom had done it so well and instinctively for so many years, he just knew what had to be done. But none of it was written down. It was all in his head.&dquo;

He continues, &dquo;We did everything from decide where to put the food tents, to marking off the boxes on the hillside where cars parked for tailgate parties.&dquo; RauHofer continues, &dquo;Tom and I were like Mutt and Jeff. He&squo;s tall and thin, I&squo;m shorter and rounder. Tom measured the boxes out and decided they had to be three and a half paces. Of course his strides were a lot longer than mine. But Tom just knew how to do all that instinctively.&dquo;

And those instincts have never failed him, Tom says, &dquo;The highlight of my experience with the Steeplechase was watching it grow in popularity and also the opportunity to work with Bill and Carrington Price launching the Queens Cup in Charlotte. It was also a highlight to work alongside my son, Tommy, throughout all the years.&dquo;

Tom and Lorraine&squo;s only child, Tommy Junior, 30 years old now, almost wasn&squo;t there to be able to work with his father. In April 2003, Tommy was nearly killed in a serious truck accident just two weeks before the 2003 Block House Steeplechase.

&dquo;Perhaps the biggest challenge I ever faced was having to run the Steeplechase a little over a week after my son&squo;s near fatal accident when he was still in the Trauma ICU at Regional,&uot; Tom says now.

Tommy&squo;s arms, legs and pelvis were fractured. His head was also severely injured and even those first responders who rushed him to Spartanburg Regional Medical Center weren&squo;t sure Tommy Junior would survive. But miraculously, he did survive and heal, and Tommy is now doing for others what the EMS and paramedics did for him,

&dquo;I&squo;m so proud of my son,&uot; says Tom Sr., &dquo;He&squo;s a paramedic for Spartanburg County and also Polk County EMS. After being told that he would never be able to go back to college, he completed his EMT/Paramedic certification. He found his passion for helping others because of the care he received after his accident. And he&squo;s helping save lots of lives.&dquo;

Even as his own health is declining, Tom is thinking about the well being of others. The only way he agreed to be interviewed for this story was under the condition that we give positive mention to the work being done by Hospice of the Carolina Foothills, under whose care he is now.

Ashley Gosnell, social worker with Hospice of the Carolina Foothills says, &dquo; I really enjoy the opportunity to talk with Tom about his background and the history of the steeplechase.&dquo; And speaking for other members of the Hospice Care Team that oversees Tom&squo;s care, Gosnell says, &dquo;It is an honor and privilege to be a part of caring for Tom. We&squo;d like to thank Tom, Lorraine and Tommy for allowing us into their home.&dquo;

&dquo;Tom is always more worried about other people than he is concerned with himself, &dquo; says Warren RauHofer,&dquo; I had some serious health issues too, but as sick as Tom is himself, here he is worrying about other people. I guess I can use the term &39;love&39; for the way I feel about Tom. There just isn&squo;t anyone else like him.&dquo;

Tom Mosca is ending his steeplechase career with dignity, grace, and gratitude.

When asked what was his best year ever with the steeplechase, Tom answers, &dquo;They were all good.&dquo;