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‘The Best Days Are Ahead of Me’


Steve Melen’s day job is a financial advisor at Morgan Stanley in San Francisco, but in his off-hours, he’s a dad and horseracing enthusiast. He co-owns 15 racehorses across the country and started a company called Winner’s Circle Shoes—offering lucky winning horseshoes.

Steve is a lucky man. In 2008, he was diagnosed with gastric cancer, and after having his spleen and stomach, half his pancreas and a third of his esophagus removed, he was given a 12% chance of survival. It gets worse. He became addicted to painkillers and alcohol to deal with pain from losing a close friend to cancer. Five years ago, he turned his life around (after two stays in rehab) and is now an advocate for survivors by sharing his story of hope and survival. He joined other cancer survivors on Capitol Hill, to urge representatives and senators to support ongoing research funding. He’s also involved in a study to help scientists isolate genes specific to gastric cancer.

Today, he’s engaged to Tanya Brandt, a successful landscape designer from Newport Beach, and they formed Winner’s Circle Shoes—through their contacts they can acquire winning shoes from horses so that everyone can own a piece of luck. They offer them in custom frames for those who feel “lucky in love” as well as for serious collectors. They sell single horseshoes for home décor, to gift items such as on a herb planter box, or cheese board.

They also have exclusively melted down winning horseshoes and made lucky coins and charms for necklaces and bracelets. Each horseshoe comes with a certificate of authenticity. I was lucky enough to find out more about Steve and his incredible story of hope and luck.

1. How did you become interested in horseracing and becoming an owner of racing horses?
I became interested in the ownership side of horse racing after going to the Kentucky Derby with a friend who owned a horse running in it. Cause to Believe was the name of the horse. The excitement of being part of that huge event and history was a thrill. I finally got tired of being a guest of owners and wanted to try being on the other side. Purchased an interest in Killer Graces two years later and went on the win three very big races that year with my first horse. I was hooked.

2. How did you and your fiancé, Tanya Brandt come up with the idea of Winner’s Circle Shoes?
Winner's Circle Shoes was started when I came home with a shoe that had fallen off a horse during a race. I had my daughter, Ava, reluctantly jump over the fence and grab the shoe for me. Brought it home and showed Tanya. We had several winners circle photos on the wall and thought how much cooler it would be to frame the shoe with the photo.

3. One of your goals is to sell the idea of luck, how do you feel lucky?
I feel like I have been lucky from the start. From being adopted at two into a very loving family that provided all the opportunities, I could ever want, to surviving the removal of my stomach and other organs from cancer at the age of 38 for the past ten years and overcoming addiction the past five years. These are just a few examples of my luck.

4. Cause that you’re most interested/involved in?
I’m most involved currently in guiding and giving hope to others battling cancer. Especially the ones early in treatment. The fear can be overwhelming so having someone that has gone through what they are going through gives hope when all feels so difficult. I was a board member of the gastric cancer foundation and now a mentor for Debbie's Dream Foundation.

5. What have you learned the most from your experience with gastric cancer?
I’ve learned most that your life can change in an instant. But, even though the near future can look impossible, with a positive attitude, hard work, and a little luck, there is no better feeling looking back after overcoming big challenges.

6. What’s next on your “to do” list?
Next on my “to do” list is to get married February 9th. Tanya and I have known each other since high school but took a 25-year break and since reconnected and very excited to get married after dating the past few years.

7. What are you most excited about?
I’m most excited about what I consider my second half of life. The first half was very good but did have huge challenges. The second half feels so exciting with Tanya and watching our kids grow and enjoy all that life has to offer.

8. What does a typical day look like?
A typical day starts with waking up too early. Usually 4:30-5:30 a.m. on my own.  Being a financial advisor, it’s important to review and prep for my day's meetings and conversations to keep my clients informed of how they are doing and the markets. Most all of them have been with me for years, so there is a high level of trust bit always good to stay connected. After the day job ends, seems like the real work starts. With my daughter playing on three different competitive teams, school activities, WCS new ideas and reviewing the updates with all of our horses, I go to bed feeling like I need another six hours in my day.

9. What are your biggest challenges?
My biggest challenge these days is finding balance with work and play. I’ve tried to incorporate the work as part of my fun and entertainment. I used to think of work as just a job, but I’ve been able to make it my goal to give back. Whether it’s helping a client, giving inspiration to someone or supporting my children it’s all about giving. I end up getting much more back that I never realized before.

10. Where do you find inspiration?
I get my biggest inspiration from the feedback I get from new people I meet looking for hope. I’ll have a 10-minute call with someone, and they respond that it helped them more than anyone else has. This alone keeps me inspired.

11. What do you do to relax?
I relax these days when I get to watch the kids playing sports and all of us having dinner together. Watching their development and interacting with them is very fulfilling. Kids seem to isolate more these days with all the technology, so every opportunity to get away from that and interact with family and friends is a huge bonus.

12. What is your favorite vacation spot?
Favorite vacation spot would be any warm beach. Cabo San Lucas and Bocas del Toro Panama have been my favorite go-to spots lately. Lying in the sand on a warm beach is my place of serenity.

13. What are you most proud of?
I’m most proud of finding a new peace after getting sober. It was very difficult and a lot of work but was an unexpected way of relieving anxiety and feeling better about my daily actions. No longer killing myself as I’m living and see a bright future.

14. Where is home today?
Home today is in Tiburon, CA. I've lived most of my life in Northern California besides the college years in San Diego. I love Southern California and plan on spending more time there, but NorCal is home.

15. If you could get up and relocate to anywhere else, where would that be?
If I were to relocate anywhere now, it would be to Del Mar, Ca. With my new lighter body from cancer, I appreciate warmer weather. I like being close to the city life but not in the middle of it these days. Slower and warmer pace suits me much better now.

16. Are you superstitious?
I’m superstitious. From the #3, my first soccer number on the Tornadoes, where we went undefeated at age 7, to keeping daily rituals. When I find something that works, I like to put the power of positive thinking to work. I’m only superstitious in things that are out of my control. Everything else I just try and do the right thing and work hard to make good decisions. I think we all need a little luck.

17.  What was the best day of your life?
I’ve had some incredible days but feel the best days are ahead of me. Finding my current happiness opens up each day to the unknown surprises. I’ve run with bulls in Spain, skydived, won big horse races that have all been exhilarating but the possibility of what tomorrow brings is even more exciting.

18.  What’s your biggest fear?
My biggest fear used to be public speaking, but that has since subsided. Now it’s death. I really don’t want this all to end. Being so close, twice, I need to make the most of every day. I don’t get paralyzed by it but sure don’t want to go back to being so close as I was before.

19. Do you have a bucket list? And if so, what’s on it that you haven’t yet done?
I no longer have a bucket list. I like to strive to do all I can when the opportunity presents itself. I heard Jim Carrey once say that he was the most unhappy when he finally achieved all of his dreams he had set out to get. Now, I just add things to my list instead of creating a list.

20. A secret, most people, don’t know about you?
I had a lot of anxiety growing up. I would overcompensate by trying to be funny or wild and crazy. People thought I was extremely confident, but it was a struggle. That has mostly gone away but always still there.

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