Vail Daily column: Who cares if you finish first?
June 22, 2014
The U. S. Open golf tournament was played earlier this month, and in spite of the fact that Tiger Woods was absent and other big names were not in contention, there was a good reason to watch the drama unfold.
For you hockey, baseball, basketball and Tour de France fans, this really isn't about sport.
Allow me to present a different take and spell it out.
I look for a human interest aspect of a sport if I'm forced to watch and usually it focuses on emotion. It could be about a specific athlete and some controversy he had to overcome. It could be about a country no one could find on a map, but qualified for the Olympics or the World Cup just this one time and was granted the claim to compete. It could be about an individual that managed to accomplish what only one in a thousand of us would even attempt. There's always a story within the story, so to speak, and it rises above the game (and life) itself.
Sorry to bring this up, but Lance Armstrong was a reason for a lot of us to watch biking after he was diagnosed with cancer. A running back named Gale Sayers gained emotional recognition when he dedicated the NFL's "Most Courageous Player Award" to Brian Piccolo. Brian was his teammate and friend and died at his side at the age of 26. Who didn't pay attention when Jamaica had a bobsled team in the Olympics in 1988? That really happened.
The "one in a thousand" individual isn't accurate when classifying the golfer I was most impressed with at the U.S. Open. It's more like "only one in a million" would ever have the fortitude to continue after what he had endured.
He nearly died at the age of 12 but was given a reprieve with a heart transplant. Not knowing myself the consequences of such a traumatic procedure, I saw the strength in this young man as I watched the two-minute summary NBC aired during the TV broadcast. It depicted not just the ridicule he tolerated from his own classmates as he recovered, but the heartbreak knowing he could not compete in sport while they could.
In spite of the setback, he ultimately became a professional golfer and then was given another challenge most of us would consider only a nightmare. "You will die at age 30 without another heart transplant" he was told. He worked hard enough after that and only managed an amazing accomplishment in the U.S. Open Golf tournament earlier this month — he finished second.
If you didn't see the interview after he was told about his second-place finish (which included an invitation to play in the Masters next spring), Eric Compton talked of his father telling him, "This is not bad luck what you've gone through, this means only that you're lucky." He choked up while being interviewed, and I choked up watching it. (Pretty appropriate for Father's Day.)
Day to day, anyone's life could be a grind, but when you put it all into perspective, it's obvious we hardly qualify for the pity party we hope will be thrown because we didn't finish first.
Eric Compton carried a ball and chain around all his life, and I want to thank him for effort and talent he displayed this month — just to finish second.
Greg Ziccardi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.