Friday, October 24, 2014

NEWMARK: Big game weekend: A sportswriter’s Super Bowl injury

By AMY NEWMARK, Chicken Soup for the Soul | 1/31/2014

On Jan. 26, 2003, Woody Woodburn watched from the press box as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl. Woody was a veteran sportswriter, his dream job. But that Super Bowl would be the last game he covered. Driving home, he was hit by a speeding drunk driver. After the crash, police told Woody he was lucky to be alive. Nevertheless, he sustained a serious neck injury that left him with a long scar on his neck and permanent nerve damage that made typing furiously to meet deadlines intolerably painful. In his story “My Super Bowl Highlight,” published in our book on counting your blessings, he wrote about how the crash changed his life — for the better.

“It forced me to leave a job I loved too much to leave on my own,” he wrote. He had loved the job despite the toll it took on his family. Woody spent many nights away from home every week, and he often worked on holidays. He and his wife celebrated their wedding anniversary on whatever date was closest to it when there wasn’t a game. And, while he got to watch Super Bowls from the press box, he missed his son’s track meets and his daughter’s plays. Since recovering from the crash, he has been able to be home every night and not miss events that are important to his family. The crash has also brought new meaning to some of the things athletes and coaches have told him in interviews over the years, particularly John Wooden’s adage, “Make each day your masterpiece.”

On Jan. 26, 2003, Woody Woodburn watched from the press box as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers beat the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl. Woody was a veteran sportswriter, his dream job. But that Super Bowl would be the last game he covered. Driving home, he was hit by a speeding drunk driver. After the crash, police told Woody he was lucky to be alive. Nevertheless, he sustained a serious neck injury that left him with a long scar on his neck and permanent nerve damage that made typing furiously to meet deadlines intolerably painful. In his story “My Super Bowl Highlight,” published in our book on counting your blessings, he wrote about how the crash changed his life — for the better.

“It forced me to leave a job I loved too much to leave on my own,” he wrote. He had loved the job despite the toll it took on his family. Woody spent many nights away from home every week, and he often worked on holidays. He and his wife celebrated their wedding anniversary on whatever date was closest to it when there wasn’t a game. And, while he got to watch Super Bowls from the press box, he missed his son’s track meets and his daughter’s plays. Since recovering from the crash, he has been able to be home every night and not miss events that are important to his family. The crash has also brought new meaning to some of the things athletes and coaches have told him in interviews over the years, particularly John Wooden’s adage, “Make each day your masterpiece.”

Woody still feels the effects of the crash — “my neck aches 24/7, and there are times when my fingers feel like they are on fire,” he wrote in his story. And he still misses the press box. But he has gained much more than he lost by reorganizing his life after leaving on-the-road sports writing behind. As for the scar on his neck, when people ask him about it, he simply says, “Oh, it’s from an old Super Bowl injury.”

•••

Shane Daneyko and his dad, Ken — an NHL star — skated onto the ice at the New Jersey Devils’ home arena and the crowd erupted, chanting: “Dano! Dano! Dano!” Shane was thrilled by the roar of the crowd and, as he wrote in his story “Little Devil,” published in our hockey book, he’s craved that feeling ever since he accompanied his dad onto the ice.

The difference for 13-year-old Shane is that he doesn’t intend to earn acclaim playing hockey. As a young child, he spent his free time dancing to pop music instead of shooting pucks, and soon he dreamed of being a performer. Ken’s teammates were surprised. Once in the Devils locker room, Scott Stevens — a hockey legend — asked Shane, “So, what do you want to be when you grow up?” Shane “belted out theatrically” that he wanted to be the next Elvis and then swung his hips in circles. Scott and the other Devils players looked to Shane’s dad, unsure of what to say. Ken said: “Playing hockey is just not his passion. He loves to sing, dance and act.” Then he added, as if to reassure them that his son’s goals hadn’t caused a family crisis, “I’ll support him in anything he chooses to do.”

The expectations that Shane would play hockey didn’t end in the Devils locker room. They followed him to school, too. But with his father’s support, it was easy to face them. When Shane entered middle school he was peppered with questions about hockey. When he said he didn’t play, he always got that look, the puzzled one he’d first encountered in the Devils locker room. “It’s just not my thing,” he’d learned to say confidently.

Shane easily could have been pushed toward a pursuit he didn’t care for. But, with his father’s love and support, he has become his own person at a young age. And even if the rest of the world doesn’t see it, Shane still feels like he has a lot in common with his father. After all, he wrote, “my dad and I are both performers, just in different arenas.”

Syndicated by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, online at www.chickensoup.com

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