Heroes are not quitters

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 29, 2004

I beg to differ with those critics who don’t believe racers are not athletes.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. proved this theory false this past week as he recovered from a fiery crash, which occurred during last Sunday’s warmup for an American Le Mans Series sports car race in Sonoma, Calif. where he sustained second-degree burns on the inside of his legs on his neck and chin. As any athlete with an injury, Junior is bound and determined to race this weekend.

The biggest reason I can see that Little E wants to race is because it’s the sport he loves. Every athlete has attempted to play injured or has succeeded in doing so. It has been done before and it will continue to be done as long as love for sports remains.

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Olympic gold medallist Kerri Struggs showed great love and dedication for her sport in the 1996 Olympics held in Atlanta, Ga. Following an ankle injury, the gymnast pushed back the pain and tears and continued to compete in the team competition helping lead the U.S. to the gold.

Legendary Alabama Coach Paul &uot;Bear&uot; Bryant also displayed his love for football not only as a great coach, but also as a Tide player. Despite breaking his leg, Bryant played one of his best games ever against Tennessee.

Not to mention former Baltimore Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. who played 2,131 consecutive games. You know he had to wake up some mornings, bruised up from the night before and contemplated not playing. But his love for the game kept him going. It earned him the nickname &uot;Iron Man&uot;.

Earnhardt Jr. will add his name to the great list of &uot;Iron Men&uot; Sunday as he competes in the Siemens 300 at the New Hampshire International Speedway. Not only does he want to earn NASCAR Nextel Cup championship points by doing so, but also because of his love for the fast-paced sport.

&uot;I love to drive,&uot; Junior said in an interview from his hospital room last Sunday. &uot;I take the risk every time I get in the car, no matter what car it is. If the opportunity presented itself tomorrow and if they parked that (Corvette) out the door right there, I’d get back in it.&uot;

Reports Friday said that Junior, who is still tightly wrapped in gauze bandages, gave up the driver’s seat to rookie Martin Truex Jr., driver for his Busch Series team, during Friday’s practice and qualifying sessions. It is said that Little E will practice some today and start Sunday’s before giving up the driver’s seat once again to Truex after collecting some points.

Junior is currently second in NASCAR Nextel Cup points, 105 points behind Jimmie Johnson.

As a race fan, I understand if Junior pits and passes the driving duties off to Truex, but I believe once he’s in the car that it will be hard for him to do so, unless he’s in great pain. He drove a majority of last season with a concussion, so I don’t know how bad the burns will affect him.

I have a lot of respect for athletes that overlook certain injuries to continue play. I believe their efforts are not based solely on their love for their sport, but to inspire the fans in attendance.

If the critics are such good athletes, why don’t they drive a car with the injuries Junior has suffered.

I don’t believe they’ve got the guts.

Adam Prestridge is sports editor of The Greenville Advocate. He can be reached at 382-3111, ext. 122 or by e-mail: adam.prestridge@greenvilleadvocate.com