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Aug 12, 2011

Playing Hurt

Sorry for two NASCAR stories in three weeks, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to comment on one of the gutsiest performances I’ve seen in a long time. 27-year old NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski was injured during a scary crash testing his car at Road Atlanta. His brakes went out and his car slammed straight into a concrete wall at 100 miles per hour. He was air lifted to the hospital with a fractured ankle and other injuries.  The remarkable part of this story is that only four days later, Keselowski not only drove with his fractured ankle in the greuling 500 mile race at Pocono, he won!

Keselowski's destroyed race car after crashing into wall

Fractured ankle after Atlanta crash and
4 days later before winning at Pocono

A heroic effort to be sure, as Pocono is one of the longest races of the year, and unlike most NASCAR tracks, requires drivers to shift gears multiple times on every lap, along with heavy breaking in the corners. Keselowski had to man up to drive his car despite his injuries and intense pain throughout the race. To make things worse, by the end of the race his right hand was also bleeding from an open blister from shifting for nearly four hours. While some drivers may have understandably called for a relief driver, Keselowski stayed in his car and brought home the victory for his team.

Brad Keselowski joined a long list of tough race car drivers and other pro athletes who had the guts to play hurt. My favorite driver, Dale Earnhardt, was once injured in a 200 mile per hour crash at Talladega where he hit the wall head on, flipped over, was hit by another car in his roof and windshield, and caught fire. He broke his sternum, collarbone, and ribs and burned off half of his famous mustache, yet walked under his own power to the ambulance waving to the crowd. Two weeks later, driving injured with only one hand, he set a new track record qualifying first on the demanding road course at Watkins Glenn and after leading much of the race, eventually finished in 6th place.

So what did Keselowski have to say about his gutsy effort that ranked him among the sport’s toughest iron men? “I’m no hero,” Keselowski said humbly. “The heroes are the guys that died in Afghanistan this weekend…They’re my inspiration for this weekend, the things that those guys do. I’m glad that we could win today, but those are the heroes. I just drive race cars for a living.”

Performances like these are inspiring and show what a tough man can do when he has to push aside the pain to do his job. But men have to learn to play hurt in other ways too. Real men keep going to the job they hate because they know their family is depending on them. Loving men still listen patiently to their children and their wives when inside they may just want to scream after a tough day and escape in front of a ball game or in their workshop. Godly men still go to church and serve their Lord even when their spiritual tank is empty and they think they have nothing left to offer God or their fellow man. Strong men still pray for their enemies or those who have rejected them, even when their heart is broken.

As usual, Christ is our role model as a man. No man has suffered or endured more than Jesus. During his life on Earth he was often exhausted, misunderstood, scorned, mocked, falsely accused, and rejected by his own family. By the end of his short life he was betrayed by one of his own disciples, falsely condemned by a corrupt government and religious hypocrites, denied by one of his closest friends, abandoned by most of his followers, and was whipped, beaten, and tortured. Knowing fully what he would have to endure, he was “very sorrowful, even to death,” “being in…agony…his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” Yet he willingly sacrificed his very life in a brutal death on a cross so that we could have eternal life.

Guys, if Jesus could set aside his glory and his rights, endure abandonment and rejection, and suffer unbearable physical pain for the sake of those he loves, then can’t we man up to take care of our loved ones? As athletes, soldiers, rescue workers, and others learn to play hurt for the sake of others, shouldn’t we be able to do the same? Ask God today for the strength to finish your own race without giving up.
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”  -  Hebrews 12:1-3

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