SPRINGVILLE — Darren Chiacchia has resided on his farm in Springville, for the last twenty years, the Olympic equestrian has been keeping busy by training and breeding horses.
Chiacchia was born in Hamburg and attended Frontier High School. The local equestrian star splits his year between Springville and Ocala, Fla. Chiacchia was a member of the 2004 United States Olympic team that won a Bronze medal in team eventing, also known as horse trials. He has also participated in the Pan American Games several times, earning an individual gold medal in 2003.
Chiacchia has been involved with horse-riding since he was a kid. “I grew up really close to the Buffalo Raceway in Hamburg, and always had a curiosity about what went on at the track,” said Chiacchia.
“When I was about 14, I had a job delivering papers and when I was done with my route, I would head over to the raceway to watch the horses trot around the track. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was this fascinated kid wandering around barns, petting horses. Horse people, as a whole, are very generous in supporting their passion. They viewed me as a kid who was deeply interested in the sport and from there, the bond was built. Every passionate person loves to share their passion with another passionate person. I try to do the same thing when I teach, to this day.”
As the years went on, Chiacchia said he began to enjoy the sport more and more. He fell in love with the culture surrounding the sport and everything that came with it. With more experience, came more success, as the trophies and ribbons began to pile up. Chiacchia represented the United States at the 1995 Open European Championships in Italy. His first experience with the Olympics came in 2000, as an equestrian team traveling alternate, even though he never competed in the games, that year. He was also a member of the United States team, for the 2002 World Equestrian Games.
IDYLLIC SETTING — Darren Chiacchia has a farm in Springville, where he keeps his horses. Photos by Leo Mrugala.
Chiacchia said he is proud of all that he’s accomplished to this point in his career, and said that everything was not always about winning. “When I first started out, I wasn’t looking to become famous, within the business,” said Chiacchia.
“The main goal has always been to be the best rider I can be, to be the best horseman I can be. Where that takes me, is where that will take me. I remember watching riders and thinking that I just wanted to be able to ride, like them. That was the beginning of the next 30 years of my life. I just continued to strive to get to the next level and everything else took care of itself.”
A top the list of Chiacchia’s achievements is his involvement in 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. Chiacchia won a bronze medal for the United States and said that there is nothing quite like Olympic competition.
“The further away I get from the Olympics, the more fun I realize it was,” said Chiacchia.
“There is such a fairytale-like atmosphere surrounding the Olympics. There is a pressure that comes along with the setting, which you cannot prepare yourself for. The competition at the Olympics might not even have been the best competition that I’ve ever been around, but the pressure that is involved makes it so significant. There is a sense of the moment, the competition and how important each aspect of the event is. The Olympics take on a special relevance, because you know that the entire world is watching your every move.”
A wall of awards
For as much success as Chiacchia has had, none of it has come without some challenges along the way. The most prevalent of those challenges came in 2008, when Chiacchia suffered from a traumatic brain injury, when a horse fell on him during competition. “It was a very emotional time for me, as well as for my family,” said Chiacchia.
“I was in a coma for such a long period of time, that I don’t remember too much of the early stages of recovery, since most of it occurred while I was unconscious. I just know that I always believed that I would overcome the injury and once again be able to do what I love. I don’t know any other way to do it, than to always keep fighting. I’ve been an advocate for rider safety ever since, including sitting on our national committee and being involved with the Riders for Helmets program. I wanted to try to turn this negative part of my life into something positive and this was the best way I knew how to.”
Chiacchia said he is currently in the process of writing a book, which will be an autobiography. He spends a lot of time teaching riders and horses. He is always buying and selling new horses, as well as continually working on his own skills.
Chiacchia added that he hopes his hard work over the next year will lead to an opportunity to participate in the World Equestrian Games next summer, in Normandy. A good showing in Normandy could lead to an Olympic return in Brazil in 2016, for Chiacchia. “My father once told me to follow my passion and the rest will come,” said Chiacchia.
“That’s what I’ll continue to do. I will continue to be the best horseman I can be. I know if I can do that, along with doing what’s right by my horse, that I will be successful, in the years to come.”