It’s been almost an entire week to the minute that I personally learned about the death of Dan Wheldon. Every young karter dreams of winning the Indy 500, Wheldon did it twice. The most recent this season when it was handed to him as JR Hildebrand crashed out of 1st on the final turn. Save for the 500, Las Vegas was Wheldon’s only race this year.
I don’t know why deaths of athletes hits me as hard as it does. Rick Rypien, Derek Boogaard, the Lokomotiv hockey team, Wade Belak, they all hurt. Yes, they’re all hockey, a sport I love, but Dan Wheldon, an auto racer, seems odd man out in this group, yet, a week later, I’m still in shock.
When it comes down to the bottom line, athletes are nothing more than paid entertainers. They play hockey, baseball, or race around a track to paying fans to allow them to cheer and get excited and forget reality for a few hours. Much the same way as actors in movies do.
Unlike actors though, it’s somehow tragic when athletes lose their lives, especially in the act of entertaining. It’s often been said of late athletes, they perished ‘doing what they loved’. Entertaining isn’t a job for them, it’s fun. As Ricky Henderson was quoted saying, “there’s a reason the umpire doesn’t yell ‘work ball’, he says ‘play ball’ because you’re supposed to have fun.”
Perhaps the worst part of this tragedy is that it took place at the IndyCar season finale. Fans, racers and officials will have an entire off season to dwell on it before the green flag drops on a new race. It’s often the inability to get past a tragedy which causes it to magnify. Not that death during a sporting event isn’t tragic, or it can be toned down or forgotten, but the truth is, one day we’ll have to race again. No one likes to admit this is a reality, but frankly, it is. It’s almost better to drop the green flag again and continue racing as soon as possible following an event such as this.
I’ve seen every angle of Dan Wheldon’s crash, and I’ve read almost every interview. Thinking he was truly doing what he loved (it was his own money, not a sponsor, which entered him in the race) and he was doing it so I could get a small thrill, is what makes his death so tragic.