Dustins ecourage the term ‘heroic’ like no others


I want to talk about courage today. Courage is defined in may different ways. Actions, attitudes, fantastical results.

The sports pages are the perfect place to broach the subject because in no place is the word more misused.

We have had two acts of indescribable courage right here in our midsts that defy any description.

Coincidently, both subjects are named Dustin.

The 56th Rockdale Relays was run as usual Friday as it has for the past century or so, but if you look between the lanes, you’ll find something special.

Look closely at the 100-meter and 400-meter runs and you will notice the name of Dustin Strelsky.

Strelsky, 16, a Rockdale paraplegic athlete, became the first wheelchair participant.

Doesn’t matter where he finished. It only matters that he finished.

When he did cross that finish line, he received standing ovations from a largely out-of-town crowd.

Strelsky also plays basketball and is on the Tiger tennis team.

This was just another chapter in living his life to the fullest and overcoming insurmountable odds.

In another part of the world, three-year-old Dustin Pickel passed away Tuesday afternoon in his mother’s arms after a long battle with several illnesses.

I am mad. I am angry. My heart is broken today.

While I have no connection to Dustin other than his family, a church and a community, my soul is crying out for some answers.

Why did we have to beg to save his young life, when he hasn’t done anything to anybody and then receive no answer?

I have shaken his little hand and patted his head while he smiled.

Part of my grief, of course, comes from having a grandson of the same age that we do not get to see as much as we want and I could not fathom having to withstand what the Shoemake and Pickel families have had to endure.

The coward in me would be curled up in the closet.

How they get up in the morning, I don’t understand.

I’m guessing they fed off Dustin and each other’s will for him to survive.

His grandfather—John Shoemake—and I are the designated cookers any time the church has a fundraiser.

We cooked chili last Thursday and you have never known his soul was in torment. His mind elsewhere.

But he is a man of unyielding faith.

People, hug your grandkids a little tighter today. Spoil them rotten. Coca Cola and chocolate cake for breakfast, I say.

If you are on the outs with a family member, I implore you, make things right. Time is running out.

We’ve all lost love ones and its always way to soon.

I made a vow after the 9/11 attacks that as a sportswriter, I would never use the term “heroic” in describing an athlete in a story again.

It would be an absurd embarrassment to do so.

The term heroic should be reserved for fire fighters, policemen, the military and other first responders—not some millionaire who scores 40 points in some meaningless basketball game.

So I will say this, in the greatest tribute I could bestow upon the two Dustins, you are both the greatest of heroes in my eyes.

You both make me feel like I am sleepwalking through this world and it’s time to wake up.

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2014-03-06 digital edition

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