CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Blog by Race Chaser Online Managing Editor Jacob Seelman — FOX Sports photo —
I apologize for starting my blog this morning off on that kind of a note, but I just wanted to get that off my brain from the very beginning so that we can go in a positive direction from here on out.
Ready? Here goes.
First off, the world was dealt a little bit of a blow on Friday morning when it awoke to the news that Lauren Hill, the inspirational and extremely talented 19-year-old freshman basketball player at Mount St. Joseph University, died of an inoperable brain tumor just four months after playing in four college games — a dream she vowed to achieve despite doctors telling her she might live long enough to play in one after her diagnosis.
She didn’t just achieve those dreams, she scored the first and last baskets in her opening game. That’s called never giving up.
In the same vein, the difficult news of Lauren’s death was tempered slightly for those of us in the sports community when we found out via Twitter just hours before that NASCAR on FOX personality and Camping World Truck Series play-by-play voice Steve Byrnes was being discharged from the hospital after spending several days in the ICU fighting both pneumonia and a pulmonary embolism (blood clot) in his lung on top of his ongoing battle with cancer.
Byrnes got to go home and watch the Duck Commander 500 at Texas on Saturday night with son Bryson and wife Karen and just enjoy the gift of another day. He has not laid down in his fight, and everyone in the racing community has been in some way touched and uplifted by Byrnes’ gallant battle and unyielding spirit through the entire process.
That, my friends, is also called never giving up.
Did my heart hurt when I got the news that Lauren had passed on Friday morning? Absolutely. It hurt in the same way that my heart hurt when I heard just a few minutes ago that Steve was back in the hospital this morning (on his birthday, of all days).
So why do I say all this, if our hearts are hurting because of it?
Because in the last five days, we have learned more about life from these two individuals who have (or had) been facing death for longer than most of us can bear to even think about it.
In a recent interview with Cincinnati.com’s Paul Daugherty, Hill made a statement about her view on life that has stuck with me — and should stand as a hallmark on what we should do as individuals to find the bright spots in every situation we’re faced with.
“Heart, desire, intensity,” Hill says about what constitutes both basketball and life. “[It’s about] playing to the final buzzer, not worrying about the last play or the play that’s coming. People get hung up on their mistakes. That’s what I like so much about basketball, that it’s a fast game, you can correct your mistakes so quickly. You can redeem yourself by doing something good. [Because] all we have is the moment we have right now.”
Lauren didn’t know how long she was going to have. The type of cancer she had, Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma, was an untreatable form of brain cancer that spread like the tentacles of a jellyfish and attacked Lauren’s function to the point that she had to stop playing basketball. It had no specific timetable for death, only a simple statement of “soon”.
She lived each day for the minutes she had, the playtime she knew was left on the table. Each minute was special, and she used them to the fullest — raising over $1.4 million to find treatment and a potential cure for those like her going through the same fight by the time she passed on Friday.
Right now, Steve is living for every moment he has. Despite being in the hospital today with respiratory issues and continuing to fight Stage IV head and neck cancer, Steve wears a smile on his face because he has lived to see another day, another year. Though cancer has attacked him, it has not beaten him. He doesn’t know, as we don’t, how long he is going to have — but he’s trying to make the most of every second, whether it be with family, friends, or those who care about him (and there are a lot!).
We should take a page from these two — that it doesn’t matter whether you’re in good health or unsure of where your next breath will come from — live in the moment, don’t take the time you’re given for granted, but most of all: don’t let the hurdles facing you in life get you down. Not only will it make the special moments in life mean more, you just might find new meaning in moments that you might have just shrugged off or gotten irritated at normally.
Just because we work in a sport where action is fleeting and excitement is over just as quickly as it begins doesn’t mean that we should treat life the same way.
Bristol Motor Speedway has learned from that above sentence in a big way — renaming this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event the “Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand Up to Cancer” along with FOX Sports and title sponsor Food City. The move is more than a small gesture to a man who has made many gestures over his life and career to help and uplift all those he came into contact with.
To that, I say — stay classy Bristol.
So as we prepare for a special race weekend and celebrate a milestone by wishing Byrnesy a blessed 56th birthday, I would ask everyone out there just this small favor — pause and say a prayer for the man who has taught me personally what it means to live and who I have drawn both knowledge and inspiration from. Steve is one of the people that I first looked to when learning how to do what I do, and for what I have learned from him — both about motorsports and about life — I will forever be grateful.
And for the Mount St. Joseph’s family and the Hill family, we’re praying for you as well. Our hearts hurt with you. Our sympathies are with you. And we are grateful for the light that Lauren Hill brought to those who knew her, both in person and by what she did for the world.
C.S. Lewis once said that hardships often prepare ordinary people for extraordinary destiny. If nothing else, I know this: Steve Byrnes and Lauren Hill are already living that extraordinary destiny — and teaching the rest of the world how to follow in their footsteps along the way. They may not have planned to at first, but they’ve taken the cards they’ve been dealt and run proudly with them, making life a little bit brighter along the way.
Yes, cancer sucks. But life doesn’t have to. Steve and Lauren have epitomized that, and each one of us should try to in our daily lives as well.
So happy birthday Byrnesy. We’re praying for you, we love you, and everyone that knows you wants to see you beat this beast and come back stronger and brighter than ever.
And Godspeed Lauren. Your heart, your accomplishments, your spirit and your legacy will never be forgotten.
The opinions expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Race Chaser Online, Speed77 Radio, the Performance Motorsports Network, their sponsors or other contributors.