2012-08-15 / Sports

Best of the best When it comes to helping others, Gordon is on track

Bob Watkins
Sports in Kentucky
By DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer

With our country’s problems – hateful political discourse; the national debt, racism, on to a national obesity problem (Walmartians) – those who say America is in decline are wishful thinkers (Hugo Chavez), whistling past the graveyard (Iranian imam), or just don’t get it (Cuba’s Castro brothers).

Nice, 104 medals at the 30th Olympiad, 46 gold, 29 silver, 29 bronze. Well ahead of China, Russia and the rest. But there is more than metal here.

Team USA took 530 athletes to London, 269 women and 261 men. Females outnumbered males at an Olympiad for the first time. Of 104, the women won 58 medals – 29 gold, 14 silver, 15 bronze. The men’s medal count: 17, 15 and 13.

Superseding those totals and records set, is this: Opportunity. Title IX, a law passed in 1972 improved opportunities for women in sports.

With all our shortcomings, squabbles and shameless media rant to inflame, opportunity to succeed remain a linchpin to America’s place on the planet. China and Russia flail away, some say cheat, while American athletes push to achieve at everhigher levels because they (we) can. Many of our champions in athletics will rise to be leaders in years to come.


Jeff Gordon was photographed last week preparing for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International. (AP Photo) Jeff Gordon was photographed last week preparing for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International. (AP Photo) Opportunity to become best of the best.

The African boy must have been about 10 years old and suffered from a form of cancer that gutted his frame to just bones.

There was no cure. There was nothing doctors could do except pump the frail child with morphine and wait. He was going to die. e boy was brought to a hospital Th in Butare from one where the top treatment available was simple Tylenol. Yes, for cancer.

Jeff Gordon was crushed by a feeling of helplessness watching the young child in agony. Gordon knew that if, somehow, there was exemplary medical care available to the boy when he was first struck by the disease, perhaps a better fate awaited him.

Gordon, one of NASCAR’s greatest drivers, is a part of a team these days far removed from the bustle at the racetrack. He’s devoted to funding programs through his foundation that aid children with cancer by improving their care and their lives.

“I genuinely want to see a child get better. I don’t want to see children suffer,” he said.

It’s that drive that brought Gordon to Rwanda last month to celebrate the opening of the Butaro Cancer Center, the first specialized cancer treatment center in the country. Gordon was joined in dedicating the facility by Former President Bill Clinton and Rwanda President Paul Kagame — two of the few heavy hitters who can actually compete with Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. as teammates.

Gordon sure didn’t make the trip to Africa on one of his rare off weeks from the grind of the Sprint Cup season simply for a photo opp. The Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation donated $1.5 million to the center that now boasts an emergency department, a full surgery ward with two operating rooms, and significantly expanded laboratory capabilities, among other necessities. Gordon has visited Africa twice in the last year, making a connection with the children, learning about its culture, and understanding how he can best use his millions earned over a 21-year career to help eradicate diseases like cancer.

“That’s what we’re dealing with in Africa,” Gordon said. “Saving lives.”

Heady stuff coming from an athlete in a sport where saving fuel near the checkered flag is considered a good weekend. He’s easily become NASCAR’s charitable champion — and can strike a Heisman pose to prove it. Gordon was flanked on a podium by Heisman Trophy winners George Rogers and Tim Brown at Pocono Raceway earlier this month where the four-time Cup champion was honored as the seventh recipient of the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The Jeff Gordon Children’s Foundation has raised more than $11 million for children’s charities through the years. As part of the award, the Heisman Trophy Trust will donate $50,000 to Gordon’s foundation.

“Fundraising and charitable work is only as successful as the person who’s behind it and the name that’s behind it,” Johnson said.

Gordon’s primary sponsor in the Sprint Cup Series is the AARP Foundation’s Drive to End Hunger, an initiative that seeks to end hunger for 9 million people over the age of 50.

“We work so hard out here to try and win and put so much effort into it,” Gordon said. “Yet, 10, 15 years from now, what is it all going to mean? Those trophies are nice, but they do tarnish. When you try and save a life ... those are the things that stick with you for a lifetime.”

As the father of two young children, Gordon is astonished by scenes he’s witnessed Africa, like the time he saw a barefoot toddler, blanketed in dirt and dust wandering alone by the side of a potholelittered road.

Gordon believes in the optimism and perseverance of the people, and the African leadership involved in his various goodwill projects. Gordon has traveled on fact-finding missions to the Congo on behalf the Clinton Global Initiative — on the same trip with actress Ashley Judd (the wife of Dario Franchitti to some racing fans) — to target problems and discover potential solutions for global issues.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s Haiti or Africa, just going out and seeing other part of the world are going through, it’s a great experience to put things in perspective and keep things humble; to not get caught up in our own world,” he said.

Gordon met Chelsea Clinton on his last trip to Rwanda.

And he sat next to former president Clinton at a CGI dinner.

No. 42, meet No. 24.

“I was just blown away by his commitment and the power he has to bring people together,” Gordon said.

Clinton, who attended the 2003 Indianapolis 500, wanted to talk about more than changing the world: There was plenty of interest in NASCAR.

Gordon’s philanthropic efforts have deep roots stretching to trips in the early 1990s to Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston Salem, N.C., when he was a fledgling driver on NASCAR’s second-tier circuit. Gordon asked himself, why visit these hospitals?

“These kids don’t want to see me, they don’t care who I am,” Gordon said. “Then someone tells them, ‘He’s a NASCAR driver.’ They light up and smile. You see it does have an impact. When you’re able to have that kind of impact on somebody, it changes the way you look at it.”

Gordon turns solemn, however, while he talks about the many times he’s met with a sick child only to get an email, sometimes just days later, saying the child has died. Gordon remains humbled and honored by the requests.

“How can you not do it?” he said.

In 1999, his foundation was launched. In 2006, he helped open the Jeff Gordon Children’s Hospital in Concord, N.C.

He won all four of his championships by 2001 and still has the motivation he did then to celebrate another title, even as the wins dried up.

“I think the last couple of years, the toughest thing on me has been not winning as much, not having as much confidence,” he said.

Gordon spoke with The Associated Press on August 3, one day before he turned 41 — and two days before he won his 86th career race. The Drive for Five is still alive, even though Gordon slipped to 15th in the points-race after finishing 21st at Watkins Glen on Sunday.

He has no plans to retire any time soon, even as days are devoured by family time, racing, and charity work.

“I do what I can with my time,” he said.

Summer Hoops Top Story?

Top story from summer basketball circuit? Take your choice ...

1. American men and women won gold medals at the Olympics in London.

2. Jabari Parker. A report this week said the nation’s number one college prospect has narrowed his college list to three – Duke, Kansas and Michigan State.

3. Nerlens Noel is academically eligible to play at Kentucky.

4. Or, is it Kentucky’s rise in the sports licensing industry?

According to a report on the Internet site “Bleacher Report,” University of Kentucky deposited $6.73 million in merchandise royalties during fiscal year ending June 30 — nearly a 40 percent increase from 2011.

A Kentucky Wildcats 2012 NCAA Basketball National Champions t-shirt sells for $24.95. A UK basketball jersey, $74.95.

In a $4.6 billion industry, Kentucky climbed from seventh to third place in revenue rankings behind only Texas and Alabama (football schools).

Best Of Best

USA’s men’s basketball team cruised to another gold medal and got the ultimate celebrity treatment doing it. Mike Krzyzewski would have it no other way, yet the head coach has arrived at an extraordinary place in sports, seems to me.

Krzyzewski is more than college basketball’s winningest coach (and counting), more than leader to four NCAA titles at Duke. His two USA gold medal unbeaten teams at the Olympics are stellar achievements also.

Yet, beyond those statistical accolades, Krzyzewski is becoming an American icon for success certainly, but more for humility, integrity and emphasis on what a college coach should be — an educator invested in educating those who need one.

Krzyzewski is indeed a man for all seasons in all sports. Best of the best.

Kentucky Olympians

The Commonwealth made a solid contribution to Team USA’s success in London.

Reese Hoffa, born in Louisville, earned a bronze in the shot; Tyson Gay of Lexington, won a silver in the 4x100 meter relay; Claire Donahue, a Western Kentucky University graduate won a gold medal in butterfly leg of 400-meter medley relay.

Angel McCoughtry, University of Louisville graduate earned a gold in women basketball. And, capping off a year for the ages, 19-year-old Anthony Davis has a gold medal, too.

Genuine Fab Five

Fab Five. Bravo to the British for applying a nickname worthy of its characters. American gymnastics gold medal winning quintet – Gabby Douglas, Kyla Ross, McKayla Maroney, Aly Raisman and Jordyn Wieber – are destined to make lots of money.

I hope America’s new Fab Five inspires ESPN editors to drop its tiresome and fraudulent feature still being aired called Fab Five, referring to the1991 University of Michigan basketball team that won nothing except disdain and responsibility for NCAA ordered taking down UM’s Final Four banner. And, it earned a classic laugh line from one gushing sports writer who called the Wolverines “one of the most intellectually intriguing teams in history of the game.”

Rainey a Raven

Former Western Kentucky University star running back Bobby Rainey is still in the hunt for a job with the Baltimore Ravens. In an exhibition game last week, the Baltimore Sun reported, free agent Rainey rushed 12 times for 36 yards, caught three passes for 28 and a touchdown. He also returned six punts for 50 yards and a kickoff for 26.

“He’s a football player,” coach John Harbaugh said. “(Rainey) did the same things in the game today he’s done in practice. And that’s what you want to see. You want to see guys carry it over.”

Worth Repeating Dept.

Gauging his team’s preseason work so far, Western Kentucky football coach Willie Taggart remarked last week a “noticeable absence of Freddie Soft.”

Freddie what?

Freddie Soft, Taggart explained, is “a small guy who sits on players’ shoulders and tells them not to work hard. The coach is happy to report that Freddie Soft has not made an appearance at practice yet this year.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” he said.

But Freddie Soft has not been a problem.

And so it goes.

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