Former jockey Trevor Morin shows that life is what you make of it

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Despite taking a  winding path through several colleges en route to his PhD, Trevor Morin attended his first commencement ceremony when he graduated from UMass Worcester.

He missed his high school graduation because he was in the ICU following surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. He missed his graduation from Shepherd College because, well, because they’d kicked him out. He missed commencement at Mount Ida College to watch a two-year-old thoroughbred he trained run in his first race (the horse placed fifth out of seven). And he missed commencement at UMass Boston because he was in Japan formally asking his now in-laws for permission to marry their daughter, Tomoko Tabuchi.

“It took me a while to get here,” Trevor said with a wide grin, shaking his head in near disbelief that he’s been asked to be the Commencement speaker for the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. He hopes that through his speech, he will leave his fellow graduates with the message that life is what you make of it—and he certainly would know.

Born with a hole in his heart and having endured surgery as an infant and toddler, Trevor wasn’t much of an athlete as a kid. But when his father, a well-known pediatrician in Scituate, bought a thoroughbred racehorse, Trevor found his sport and his passion.

“I’d go to the track with my dad all the time, and it really felt like this was my calling.” He began to ride and, by the time he was a teenager, was training for a career as a professional jockey. A third heart surgery at age 18—which caused him to miss high school graduation—seemed to put that career in jeopardy. Weakened and worried that he’d never ride again, Trevor rushed his recuperation to get back to racing. It was a mistake. “I couldn’t control the horses and pretty soon, there were rumors around the track that I was crippled with a weak heart.”

Forced to take time off to recover properly, he enrolled at Shepherd College in West Virginia—not coincidentally, the school is a few miles from Charles Town Race Track. After a semester, Trevor began riding again, gaining strength and building a reputation as a tough, fearless jockey who would take on the most difficult horses. Feeling on top of the world when he was riding, Trevor focused everything on the track. “I was living my dream,” he said, “but I don’t know any jockey who hasn’t suffered serious injury at the track, and in a split second it was over for me.”

During his sophomore year, a young racehorse Trevor was training threw him into the track rail, shattering his wrists and ending his riding career. His school career seemed to end as well, when Shepherd College asked him not to return; he’d been spending more and more time at the track, and less and less time in classes. His dreams of racing dashed, his education halted, he turned to drugs and alcohol in a deep depression that “most people, unless they’ve been there themselves, are incapable of comprehending.”

Directionless, he hit bottom after a series of failed attempts at rehab, despite his family’s support. Searching for something that might fill the void left by racing, he took small steps towards regaining himself, focusing on equine science—thinking he’d become a racetrack veterinarian—and finished a bachelor’s degree at Mount Ida College before enrolling at UMass Boston to take pre-requisite courses for veterinary school. It was there that he got hooked on science and found another passion.

“Molecular biology and organic chemistry required me to be hyper-focused, like racing,” he said, “and it held the same excitement for me. UMass Boston unlocked a potential I didn’t know I had.” Determined to make the most of that potential and what felt like a second chance, Trevor rode the momentum he’d gained at UMass Boston—graduating in 2002 with a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry—directly into the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, where he worked in the lab of William R. Kobertz, PhD, associate professor of biochemistry & molecular pharmacology.

“Bill is a master at bridging disciplines and taught me how chemistry influences biology and how biology influences chemistry. He also taught me electrophysiology and how to apply my skills in chemistry.” During graduate school Trevor also learned that, like in horse racing, you have to work hard, even if it may not pay off in the end.

“In racing, you could train a horse all year and have a bad race, a real failure. In science, you could conduct experiments all year and have them go bad on you, too. But you have to figure out what those failures mean and continue on,” he said.

Trevor is enthusiastic and upbeat about his work and the bright future ahead. He’s employed at MassBiologics in Mattapan and is currently working on clinical trials for a monoclonal antibody to neutralize the hepatitis C virus, thus preventing infection of new livers transplanted into hepatitis C patients. “The people at MassBiologics are hard working and they do such great science—it shows in the discoveries. For a small group, we have a very big impact on public health,” he said with pride.

Commencement will mark a significant milestone for Trevor and his friends and family who helped him when he needed it most. In turn, Trevor says he is looking forward to helping his wife, Tomoko, in the coming year as she works on her own PhD in the lab of Kirsten Hagstrom, PhD, assistant professor of molecular medicine. He definitely plans to attend her commencement in 2011.

To see a video interview with Trevor, click here.

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