How Life, Loss, and Love are Illustrated by Sports

The cover featured a photo of a regal looking black man with dreadlocks piled high on the top of his head and a peace sign tattooed on the back of his left hand. Deandre Hopkins played football for the Houston Texans until he was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in what the article called “the biggest-and most lopsided-trade of the NFL offseason.”

I rarely read Sports Illustrated (SI) magazine but one morning Memorial Day weekend while everyone else  in my family was still asleep I did.

In my medical practice and on this blog, I promote sports as a way to maintain health and fitness, but I’d never pursued organized sports myself-not due to lack of interest, but lack of talent-until I discovered the sport side of ballroom dancing. 

Otherwise, I follow my local sports teams, the Olympics, and the big events -the Super Bowl, World Series, and World Cup. And I admire those athletes who achieve special recognition in their sport, especially those who overcome great odds to get there. 

Hands Dealt 

So perhaps that’s what attracted me to  the May 2020  issue my husband left lying on the coffee table. The cover featured a photo of a regal looking black man with dreadlocks piled high on the top of his head and a peace sign tattooed on the back of his left hand. Deandre Hopkins played football for the Houston Texans until he was traded to the Arizona Cardinals in what the article called “the biggest-and most lopsided-trade of the NFL offseason.” 

I don’t understand or care about football trades. I am interested in what Deandre said about his hair. He says he wears it with pride, because

“we, as people, drew strength from our hair. I will never cut mine, because I know who I am. And there’s power in knowing exactly who I am.”

Deandre Hopkins

I thought, He talks like Samson, in the Bible, whose strength came from his hair. No wonder he looks regal. 

Deandre’s background sounds less regal, but may be the true source of his power. He wonders whether being bow-legged as a child forced him to develop better balance.

Deandre grew up poor, one of five children. His mother was left blind when an angry woman, jealous because they were both dating the same man, splashed acid into her face. His father, who sold drugs, died when Deandre was six months old. All of this, and probably more, shaped his mindset. 

Deal with the pain. People you love can make mistakes. Move forward. 

Deandre, Sports Illustrated, May 2020

Maybe that’s why he isn’t angry about the trade, why he helped his mother start a nonprofit to aid survivors of domestic violence, and why he donated $150,000 to COVID-19 relief efforts in Arizona, where he will move when restrictions are lifted.

Trust me, you need to read how these and other events shaped the lives of Deandre and his mother Sabrina Greenlee ,forging

The Unbreakable Bond

WAter wait 

Continuing on, I discovered open-water swimming which I didn’t know was a sport, much less in the Olympics. Ashley Twichell could swim before she could walk. For thirteen years she has worked to earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic swim team and at 31 years old, she would have been the team’s oldest rookie Olympic swimmer  since 1908 , if this summer’s games had not been cancelled.  And next year, at 32, she will be the second oldest woman to ever swim on the U.S. Olympic team.

“I’ve always taken it year by year. And now I get even one more year than I was planning on.”

faith of a nation

Deni Avdija, a 19 year old basketball champion from Israel, cannot grow a beard. But he has aspirations to play professional basketball. In the United States. For the NBA. Which even a basketball simpleton like myself knows will be historic.  

Last year his team won the under-20 European Championship in Tel Aviv. Playing in the final against Spain he earned the tournament MVP (Most Valuable Player) award. He fell to his knees as the game ended, thinking of his  grandmother, who had supported him, and  had died of Alzheimer’s a few weeks earlier. He told himself,  

“She gave me this trophy. She gave me the opportunity to win this trophy.” 

I hope he makes the NBA. I might watch him if he plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder, they’re just a short turnpike drive from my home.

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Eyes up👀

A post shared by Deni Avdija (@deniavdia8) on

standard of caring

Finally, I name Hayley Wickenheiser, retired ice hockey player, as MVP for this issue of SI. She deserves it on several levels. She earned seven world championship golds.   She played for Canada in five Olympics. She won four Gold medals and one Silver medal. She was admitted to the Hockey Hall of Fame. She even played on a Finnish men’s hockey team. She deserves the unofficial title of history’s greatest female hockey player.

But for me, that isn’t what makes her MVP. Haley sees the coronavirus pandemic from a different perspective; she will soon be Dr. Wickenheiser upon finishing her final year of medical school. She plans to practice emergency medicine.

Hayley serves on the IOC (International Olympic Committee) Athletes’ Commission, a peer-elected board that advises the Olympics’ governing body. In March 2020, she became increasingly concerned about the fate of this year’s Olympic games  as the world became engulfed in the COVID-19 nightmare.

So she took to Twitter demanding the IOC make a definitive plan to give direction to the thousands of athletes in limbo about the games. Her tweets prompted other organizations to make similar demands and by late March the games had been officially cancelled. 

Her concern came not just as an athlete. She said, 

“I couldn’t sit silently anymore, given  what I was seeing in the emergency rooms and hearing from my friends in hospitals across the country.” 

As a student she is not expected or allowed to provide direct care to coronavirus patients. But she stays busy studying, working out, giving hockey tips through Instagram, and using Twitter to encourage social distancing. 

“The calmer we stay, the more we isolate from each other…if we do our part at home and on the front lines, we have a chance to combat this as a mass group of humanity.” 

With Dr. Hayley and her generation of future physicians, I think the world’s health is in good hands.

exploring the HEART of athletes

Thanks for joining me to meet these athletes. I hope you will explore them further and gain new inspiration for your own athletic journeys; we all have one, in one way or another.

Dr Aletha lifting arms like an ice skater shadow behind her
Getting inspired while touring the USA Olympic training center in Colorado Springs, Colorado

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