Against the odds with Chris Moneymaker

It was late one night at the World Series of Poker. A friend walked up and said, "Do you think you could get an autographed picture of Chris Moneymaker?"

I shrugged. Shouldn't be too hard, I thought.

The friend said, "Not for me. There's this guy in the hospital."

I quickly told my friend who he should talk to, knowing Moneymaker would have no problem signing a picture. I made the introduction and didn't think about it again until this morning.

***

Six months ago, Chris Moneymaker was just back from the PokerStars Caribbean Adventure. He'd hosted the Moneymaker Millionaire there and was settling back into regular life in Tennessee. It was starting off to be a busy year, one in which his name was again growing beyond his humble roots. He was already the man credited with kicking off the poker revolution. Now, he had his name attached to a million dollar freeroll. He might have heard that there were people who considered him their hero, but he didn't let it get to his head. He had a life and family to think about.

Six months ago, Moneymaker had never heard of a guy named Donald Hobbs.

Hobbs loved poker. A native of Pineville, Kentucky, Hobbs had been playing poker with his friends for a while and he styled his game after the one-time Tennessee accountant who had shocked the world by winning the 2003 World Series of Poker. Who knows what would've happened to Hobbs in the months since. He might have gone on a major rush and ended up next to Moneymaker at the 2007 World Series. There's no way of telling.

In February of this year, Hobbs was riding in a car as it careened over a Kentucky bluff, plummeted to the bottom, and exploded.

***

If you're the type who believes in miracles, you should look to Donald Hobbs. No one should've lived through the crash. It was a fiery, bone-crushing mess of death and there was no excuse for Hobbs to have been pulled alive from it. Yet, he was.

Though he was broken in more places than he could count and burned in a way that would make some people pray for death, Hobbs was alive. Whether he would stay alive, however, was another matter. He was a hemophiliac and that severely cut into his chances of surviving his injuries.

So began Hobbs tour of Kentucky hospitals, hospital rooms, doctors, and therapists. His last stop was Cardinal Hill Specialty Hospital. He was still in bad shape. During his recovery, he could barely move and his body showed the effects of a forced sedentary life. What's worse, he was still in the kind of pain that makes grown men cry. He was burned, broken, and having a hard time making any sort of meaningful recovery.

Enter Michelle Rose.

Rose is an occupational therapist. Her job is to take people like Hobbs and fix them well enough that they can function in the real world and live a life of adult independence. It's a goal-oriented process that can be painfully slow.

For instance, when Rose started working with Hobbs, the first goal was to sit up. Get that? The goal wasn't to make it outside for a game of touch football or walk down the hall to the Coke machine. The goal was to sit up. For you, that might be the first goal of the morning. For Hobbs, it was a long-term goal that took some serious work.

Rose didn't want to just sit there and give Hobbs pep talks. She wanted to give him a reason to sit up. So, she pulled out a deck of cards. The idea was to give Hobbs something to while sitting up (and secretly, to increase some muscle strength he'd lost during his recovery).

It wasn't easy at first. Of course, nothing in the past several months had been easy. However, over time, the games Hobbs played with his therapists became like any nightly home game. The competition spawned laughter, jokes, and story after story. Perhaps without even fully realizing it, Hobbs began sitting up for longer periods of times.

One day, during a game, Hobbs revealed he was a poker player and loved to watch it on TV. What's more, he said, Chris Moneymaker was his favorite player. Rose would later tell her colleagues that Hobbs' face lit up every time he talked about Moneymaker, about how the champion didn't forget his friends after he won the big one, and about how he liked to emulate Moneymaker's style when playing home games. Before long, Hobbs was sitting on the edge of his bed for 20 minutes at a time--no small feat for a guy who should've died months earlier.

What Hobbs didn't know at the time was that he was talking to a friend of someone who worked on the World Series circuit. What Hobbs didn't know what that he was about to get one heckuva surprise.

***

I wasn't there when Moneymaker heard about Hobbs, but I've been made to understand that his reaction sounded a lot like, "Autographed picture? Forget that. Where is he? I'm going to go see him."

And that's exactly what happened. Moneymaker showed up at Cardinal Hill and challenged Hobbs to a heads-up match with hospital straws as chips.






Photo courtesy Cincinnati Enquirer


Before the game was over, Moneymaker made a deal with Hobbs: get better and join him in Las Vegas for the 2008 World Series.

In a world where goals begin with sitting up in bed, making it to the World Series may seem like an unreachable achievement. However, Hobbs has proven he's no ordinary guy and if the goal involves the World Series and Chris Moneymaker, I'd bet he can make it.

More: Cincinnati Enquirer

Brad Willis
@BradWillis in