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Real Sports Heroes Often Go Unnoticed

L’Observateur / June 15, 1998

A couple a weeks ago, I was finishing up a round of golf at City Park, mumbling about my play when I happened to glance over to the practice green.

There, there was a man with one leg, using crutches to help him stand while he putted. I watched him for a few minutes, watching someone notletting his disability stop him from doing something he enjoyed. Thosefew minutes helped me put sports in perspective.

We are always talking about sports heroes and role models. We point tothe Michael Jordans, the Grant Hills and the Ken Griffeys of the world. ButI wonder if we sometimes overlook some really true heroes of the sports world.

Jim Abbott lived almost every young boys’ dream, making it to the major leagues despite missing one hand. I remember seeing Abbott pitch for thefirst time when he played for the University of Michigan against Minnesota and wanting him to succeed even though he was going for the team I was rooting for.

Much has been made about Casey Martin and whether he should be allowed to use a cart on the course. I have had mixed feelings about the case.Having played golf, I realize the importance of stamina in the game. But Ialso realize that Martin should be allowed to do something that he enjoys and is good at. His perseverance in overcoming a number of obstacles lastweek, overcoming cart problems to sink a long putt to win a playoff and qualify for the U.S. Open, is a testament to both this young man’s skill andcourage.

The list goes on. Brett Butler overcoming cancer to play again. TomDempsey overcoming his disability to kick a 63-yard field, a record that still stands over a quarter of a century later. Ben Hogan coming back froma serious car accident to win a U.S. Open.In the past couple of weeks I have had the opportunity to see and meet local athletes with disabilities succeed in something they enjoy. Lastweek, Westin Canal Place, Brother Martin’s American Legion team, defeated East St. Charles, 14-3. The winning pitcher was Jason Smith, who like Abbott, was missing a hand. All Smith did was strike out four while allowing six hits andfielding flawlessly.

I also recently had an interview with Maurice Deslatte for our upcoming River Current. Deslatte competes in the Special Olympics and recently wongold medals in the 1500 meters and shot put in the state games held at Tulane.

Anyone who ever wants to see what sports are truly supposed to be about should only watch these Special Olympians in action. There motto of “Letme win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt,” should be the motto for all athletes.

Another word that we often overuse in sports is courageous. Theseathletes have shown us what courage really is. They have proven by theiractions and victories that it is one’s heart and spirit that makes true heroes.

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