For nearly a decade, Vevay’s Otto Thorwarth felt like he ‘had a book in him’.
A lifelong career as a jockey, a celebrity when tapped to portray jockey Ron Turcotte in the movie “Secretariat”, Thorwarth has known both struggles and successes.
But today, as his book, ‘No Ordinary Champion’ is available, Thorwarth says that a greater power moved him to finally pen his thoughts.
“It’s been 10 years in the making,” he laughed. “The story kind of came together after being in the movie, ‘Secretariat’, that was kind of the main culmination of it. For years I would sit down and I would start writing it and I would get maybe one or two — I think the most I ever got was three chapters written. Then I just hit a brick wall. It was like I got writer’s block. It made me frustrated.”
Thorwarth said that he’s always done a lot of writing, particularly journaling through his teen and adult years, but the book in his mind just seemed to now come together on paper.
A native of Arkansas, Thorwarth returned home last year to visit family — and that’s when he got some divine inspiration.
“I went back to Hot Springs, Arkansas to visit my mom, because she had had hip replacement surgery,” Thorwarth recalled. “While I was there, some friends of mine called and they had a dear friend who was having some health issues, and they were going to go visit her. They knew a lot of the success that I’ve had praying for people and seeing people getting healed, so they called me and asked if I’d be willing to go with them and pray for this lady — which I happily agreed to.”
The group found itself at the home of the sick lady, and after visiting and praying with her — and then she had some words to Thorwarth, whom she’d never met before.
“When we got done praying for her, she looks at me and said, ‘I really feel like the Lord is speaking to me to say that you have a book in you’,” Otto remembers. “I was like, this lady doesn’t know me from Adam, and I was like ‘wow’, actually I’ve had an idea for a book for almost a decade now, but I just can’t seem to get it onto paper.”
Thorwarth said that the woman, in turn, told him that she felt like she needed to pray for him over that matter — and that’s what happened.
“The next morning I got up in my mom’s house and was having my quiet time, and I always have a notebook next to my Bible that I take notes in whenever God shows me something,” he continued. “After I got done with my quiet time, I kind of had some thoughts about my story, so I started penning it down. I started writing and within a couple of hours I had written two chapters, then it just continued to flow. I was writing a lot, probably close to a chapter a day. Within a month and a half, I’d written a book.
“It was just a God thing.”
With a manuscript in hand, Thorwarth was faced with the next, big question: “Now what?”
“I started looking for a publisher, and I had a gentleman that I did a podcast with out of Colorado, who somebody had dropped my name to him who had been on his show. He called me and wanted me to come on and share my testimony,” Otto said. “I mentioned that I had just written a book. We talked a little bit about it in the podcast, because it wasn’t published or anything. After the show, he said, ‘I’ve got a friend who’s a publisher out in Oklahoma. If you don’t mind, I’ll give you her number. I think you’d all have a lot in common. Maybe she could help you out. She ended up being the person who published the book.”
Thorwarth said that his new publisher was surprised when he gave her his first draft, shocked that Otto had never written before. She gave the new author some pointers on how to clean up the story.
“There was some stuff in it that she thought was a little bit too much information,” he said. “She showed me how if you go too far into one subject, you can lose your reader. You want to keep them going. We had to take out a lot of stuff that was meaningful to me as a child, but I understood where she was going with it. She helped me structure it and really clean it up and make it look good. I was tickled to death when we got to our end product. Then we started with the cover art. It’s been neat. I’m getting tremendous feedback from people.”
The book is an autobiography of Thorwarth’s life, but in working with his publisher, it became a lot more.
“It’s an autobiography,” Thorwarth said. “When I wrote it it was just a straight up autobiography, but then when she read it, she said, ‘You know, you really have a lot of teaching points to your story that could help others find their purpose’. That’s where she really helped me. She helped me weave those teaching points through the book so that it’s more than my story, it’s God’s story. He’s no respecter of persons, He can do the same things for anybody else that He did for me.”
So, “No Ordinary Champion” challenges the reader to find their own ‘champion’, the culmination of a lifelong pursuit by Otto to find success as a jockey — it just wasn’t in the way he imagined.
Moving from Arkansas to Vevay in 2007 with his wife and family, Thorwarth rode mounts on mounts all around the area.
“I was a jockey for 12 years and then I quit riding because I was burnt out,” he recalled. “I was living in Kentucky at the time that I quit riding and went back to Arkansas. During that time, that was when I got serious about my walk. It was then that God called me back to racing — which I didn’t want to do — but I eventually gave in and followed him and that’s when I moved to Vevay.”
The Thorwarth family found a home at Vevay Assembly Church — that’s where he says that the Lord spoke to him about what lied ahead on his journey.
“Just a couple of weeks after going there, Pastor Bob Morgan, who’s now passed, he calls me and my wife forward one day after the service, and he said that he really felt the urgency to pray over your wife,” Otto said. “At that point my wife was six weeks away from having our second child, and it sort of startled me, because I was completely new to this who prophetic thing. He prayed over Brandy and the baby, and then he looks as me and says, ‘Otto, God just gave me a word for you….the Lord says you’re going to ride a champion.”
Thorwarth said that a few weeks later Morgan again approached him with another vision — although Morgan had no idea what it meant.
“He said, ‘I saw you, you were sitting on this horse, and there were a lot of people around you, and you had this blankey laying across your lap and it was covered in roses’,” Otto said. “Apparently Bob had never watched the Kentucky Derby before, because that’s the only race that you get draped with a garland of roses.”
The opportunity to ride in the Kentucky Derby is what Otto calls a ‘Once in a Lifetime” chance, so he pushed it to the back of his mind.
“To be honest, instead of being excited, I got discouraged,” he said. “I thought I’m going to be riding for another 20 years before I see that horse.”
But it didn’t take 20 years, because just a couple of years later Thorwarth ends up being cast as jockey Ron Turcotte in the movie about the legendary horse — and a highlight of the movie was when Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby — and Otto was filmed in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs — a blanket of roses lying across his lap.
“That was the champion Bob was seeing,” Otto said.
Once again retired from riding, a stint that ended for a second time about two years ago, Otto now serves fulltime as the racetrack chaplain at Indiana Grand Racetrack in Shelbyville, Indiana.
“It’s a great fit,” he laughed. “I get to do what I love — share the word — and be in an environment that I know better than the back of my hand.”
After the movie, the Thorwarth family left Vevay and moved back to Arkansas in 2010, and in 2013 the family returned here, and now reside on River Road just east of Vevay.
He and Brandy have two daughters, and also have a foster child.
It is Otto’s hope that now that the racing season has ended, he will be able to go to churches and share his story and the book with people. He already has invitations to speak in churches in Arkansas for most of January.
Those wanting a copy can go online to www.noordinarychampion.com. It is available in paperback or as an ebook.