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Georgeanna Nugent: Reflections on an incredible journey…and it’s not over

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Life is a journey. From the moment we are born, our souls set out on a whirlwind of events, people, family and love. Georgeanna (also known as Georgie) Nugent’s journey has led her to find the richest joy of all through her tenacity and perseverance.

This inspiring woman wears many hats in her world. She is the Director of Classic and Signature Sanctuary Programs for Audubon International, following 17 years in environmental consulting in Denver and the Capital District. She worked primarily on transportation projects and feasibility projects for light rail out of Denver in the beginning of her career. She received her bachelor’s degrees in environmental science and geology from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh and earned a master of science in environmental science and engineering from the Colorado School of Mines. She and her family live in Saratoga Springs, close to Saratoga Race Course. 

Early Horsemanship
“I showed horses in Canada and jumped for several years as a teenager. I was on my first horse at the age of two with my mother, Ginger Nugent. She’s the one who got me into horse riding and encouraged me to take lessons,” she commented. “Most summers, my dad, George Nugent, and mom would pack up my brother and me on Friday after work and make the three-hour drive from my house to their cottage on an island in Canada. I grew up in Vestal, New York, near Binghamton two and a half hours from Saratoga Springs.”

In 2009, she was appointed to the Capital District Transportation Authority Board by Governor David Paterson. A partner with StarLadies Racing, she’s an avid horse racing fan. A 2008 graduate of Leadership Saratoga, she was previously a member of the Saratoga Springs Design Review Commission. She is actively involved with educational grant and scholarship programs for students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, field. 

“I took some time to regroup and reevaluate my career path, as I was going through some things with my son and personal changes. I saw a notice that Audubon International was looking for someone to run Signature and Classic Sanctuary programs,” she explained. “I work with properties that haven’t been developed or are renovating, primarily golf courses; I have about 100 under my umbrella all over the world.”

Audubon Environmentalism
The woman in this position prior to Georgie had held it for 23 years, working out of Kentucky. When Georgie met her during a trip to the Breeders Cup, she learned her background and information about the program to make a successful transition. She started the job in November 2018. Audubon International is a not-for-profit organization that works with golf course developers and architects to develop and maintain courses in an environmentally sustainable way. 

“I assist them with developing and protecting habitats to be viable in the long run. It is very rewarding!” she smiled. “My goal is conserving water, reducing chemicals and assisting golf courses in environmentally sustainable practices long-term. We have 2,400 courses in several programs in 34 countries.” Globally, Audubon International oversees nine environmental education and certification programs. They have been in business for 30 years and have members in 34 countries.

“I was speaking with a friend recently about how I ended up in a male-dominated field in all aspects of my professional life and what really stood out was that my father was an engineer and my mother was a math major with an MBA from RPI. Math, science and engineering were stressed, and it was always expected that I do well in those areas. They constantly stressed the importance of college and grad school. I remember working on math flash cards with my mom each summer growing up,” she continued. “I truly wish that more women and young girls had mentors in the STEM field to help break more glass ceilings.” 

The only female member of the New York Racing Association board, she certainly knows a thing or two about that. She was appointed in September 2015 by the Speaker of the Assembly, Carl Heastie. “The board I serve with is composed primarily of horse racing owners/leaders, titans of industry and influential men of various backgrounds who work tirelessly to improve the sport we all love,” Georgie affirmed. “Being able to take part in high-level discussions and decisions and to represent and vocalize the interests of the Saratoga Springs community and the backstretch workers is an honor that I take very seriously.”  

Making a Connection
Georgie’s path has taken a long, winding road, and on that course, she felt the need to find her biological parents. Adopted at birth, her life has been ideal. She has two children; her son, Ripley, 17, is a senior in high school who is looking at colleges, and her daughter, Maginn, 14, is starting high school next year. Ripley had some serious medical issues, which prompted Georgie to find her family. He is doing very well now, and this search has enriched both Georgie and her life partner, Eric Miller, in countless ways. 

She was in contact with her biological father first and met her biological mother in 2016. She found her biological parents through DNA testing and the Ancestry website; she has built her biological tree to 3,800 people. Her firm belief is that everyone should have access to their original birth certificate, especially when there may be a life-changing situation. Her mother was so close all that time, yet Saratoga was the only one of the race tracks in the U.S. she had not been to when they met.

When Georgie first discovered her biological mom, she learned she had been born in Switzerland, had come to the United States, had become pregnant as a teen and had put Georgie up for adoption immediately after giving birth. Georgie was astounded by what they had in common. Her mother worked in the horse industry at Keeneland Racetrack in Kentucky and elsewhere as a backstretch employee and she rode horses recreationally her entire life. “When I met her, she told me she rode horses throughout her entire pregnancy, and I was surprised that we had the same interest in horses! She moved up to Wyoming after giving birth. She went to four different schools in 12 years, in four different countries, while growing up. She was in the Binghamton, New York, area for only 18 months,” Georgie explained. “She and my biological father broke up and she moved to a dude ranch outside of Yosemite, taking care of horses. She stayed in the United States when her parents moved back to France, and she then moved to Kentucky. My first phone call to her was May 20, 2016, and I put her name into Facebook; when I saw her picture kissing a horse, I thought I was on Candid Camera! That is almost the same picture I have on my Facebook, but a mirror image.”

“I fell in love with horse racing when I moved to Saratoga in 2008 and had just joined the NYRA board in September 2015; it was May 2016 when I found my biological mom,” she mused. Georgie is a passionate member of StarLadies Racing, a woman-only group of like-minded individuals who own their own fillies. StarLadies was launched five years ago as an offshoot of Starlight Racing, a separate partnership founded by Jack and Laurie Wolf in 2000.

In addition to horses and her many activities, she is in a Tuesday night golf league with ladies at a local municipal course. She also loves boating and live music and concerts. Hockey is her second-favorite sport to watch live. She finds her inspiration through volunteering on the two boards. Since she joined NYRA, she has worked tirelessly with the organization to improve the backstretch conditions of the thousands of workers who live there. 

Passion for Saratoga
“What I love most about Saratoga is the people,” Georgie said. “It would be difficult to find a community in the U.S. so dedicated to preserving the past yet consistently making improvements for a better place to live and work. And during the racing season, I look forward to the thrill of the sport and the rush of excitement that embraces racing fans from all over the world in Saratoga Springs.

“I didn’t know of my unique connection to the back stretch. When I found it in 2016 it sparked something in me to advocate to improve housing and living conditions for the employees who live in the Saratoga Springs community from April through November. I used my personal experience of my biological mother’s working and living there 30 years to work with NYRA management and board and they are all very supportive. 

“We are now happy to say every dormitory on the Saratoga main track back stretch will be renovated by July 11. We have found funding to make that happen in a comprehensive and aggressive plan. What I bring to the table is my unique experience and background. NYRA is one of the best racing organizations in the world, and this backstretch plan has been dubbed the most ambitious of any race track in the U.S. My biological mother worked on the backstretch last summer and is returning this summer to Barn 29 with trainer Michael Maker. For CDTA, I am inspired daily by the millions of people who rely on public transportation on a daily basis.”

Her hobby is now helping adopted children looking for family members. She hopes her story inspires them; she’s keeping a journal and plans to write a book to share her powerful story. “It fulfills my soul to help others do that. Everyone has a different story about why they were put up for adoption. I feel at peace now, and they do too, whether their story is positive or negative,” she reflected. “Even though I am in my 40s, my whole life I didn’t know where I came from. Finding out helps with your inner journey and sense of self.” 

What’s Georgie’s advice for other women wishing to follow their dreams? “Number one, be acutely aware of your strengths and weaknesses and ask for help when you need it. Women don’t ask for help enough. I am not good at fashion, so I rely on Natalie Sillery at Saratoga Trunk if I need a dress for a special event or race track event. I go out to eat a lot because I’m not good at cooking. Be aware of who you are, and realize you only know what you know. Women need to ask for help more often no matter what it is. Even if they don’t ask, women need to support each other. Use your lowest and darkest times in life, whether divorce, loss of job or family member, and work your way out and make it a brilliant transition. If you had told me four years ago I’d be on this path working to make a better environment globally with healthy children and a loving partner, I wouldn’t have believed you. The Leadership Saratoga program is one of the best things I ever did. Also, don’t overcommit yourself, stick to and volunteer with two or three organizations and use your unique background to assist in the greater purpose of the organization.”

Suffice it to say, Georgie will ride on into the future and create her own track.