Saturday, May 5, 2012

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Dave Dravecky: The Journey of Suffering and Hope

By now my regular readers will know I have a love for sports, and have written about a variety of Christian athletes, such as Eric Liddell,  Jeremy Lin, and of course Tim Tebow (and again, and again).  But the first to really catch my attention was a pitcher for my local team, the San Francisco Giants, back in the late '80s.  His name was Dave Dravecky, and what happened to him remains one of the most dramatic, tragic, but ultimately uplifting sports stories I've ever encountered.

Dave Dravecky in the '80s was perhaps not destined for greatness, but he was certainly on his way to very-goodness.  Though not highly drafted, he'd been a Major League Baseball All-Star, had pitched in the World Series, and at 32 on a contending team he yet had the prospect of much more.  Then cancer took half the deltoid muscle on his pitching arm, and the doctors said his career was likely over, "short of a miracle".

The miracle culminated the following year on August 10th, 1989, when a rehabilitated Dravecky took the mound for the Giants and pitched impressively, defeating the Cincinnati Reds 4-3.  The excitement in the Bay Area was palpable that year, one in which the Giants were on their way to an improbable World Series against their cross-bay rivals, the Oakland A's.

Dave would not be part of that story, however.  His fairy tale was cruelly interrupted five days after the Reds game in Montreal, when in a "pitch heard round the world" his left arm, still brittle from the cancer treatment, snapped in half.  The sickening crack was audible throughout the shocked stadium.  Dravecky was carted off to the visitors' locker room, where as he sat alone awaiting transport he was stunned to see an emotional Montreal Expos catcher Mike Fitzgerald rush in with his gear on between innings, give him a hug and kiss on the cheek, and run back out again.  It was that kind of moment.

It was also the last pitch he would ever throw, as the cancer would return and Dave Dravecky would lose his entire left arm at the shoulder.

 

I was reminded of Dravecky's story after hearing just three days ago that Junior Seau, a 20-year veteran of the National Football League and certain future Hall-of-Famer, died in an apparently self-inflicted gunshot wound to the chest.  Seau was famous, widely liked and respected, and seemed an unlikely candidate for suicide.  Many of his distraught friends and family have said that Seau was having great difficulty transitioning to his life after football.  It is a heartbreaking and seemingly senseless story.

Dave Dravecky reminds us that there is another way for the story to end, as even the most crushed spirit can be filled with the hope of eternity:

Before my surgery, I looked forward to the amputation. My arm had become useless and was a source of great pain. I wanted to be rid of it. But I had no idea what the consequences would be.
After the amputation, I put on a brave face and “sucked it up.” I adjusted to my new “normal” life, but inside—even though I was not aware—I struggled with denial and anger, resulting in depression.
Everything familiar had been washed away, and I was face to face with what I had really lost.
So much of my identity and worth was wrapped up in that arm and what it had been capable of doing. It had brought me joy. It had brought me financial security. It had brought me the fulfillment of my boyhood dream.
My questions could not be held at bay: “Who am I? Why am I here? And now what am I supposed to do with my life?”
Over a period of 18 months of counseling, I began to understand my feelings and, for the first time in my life, learned how to express them—and that wasn’t easy for a jock like me.
I also found encouragement and motivation through the hope I have in Jesus Christ. Even as a follower of Jesus Christ, I sometimes wanted to crawl into a corner, paralyzed by fear. But I learned to trust that no tragedy or trauma could ever diminish my worth. My worth is not in what I did, but in who I am—a child of God…
Today Dave and his wife, Jan, are embarked on a ministry to those dealing with loss and depression.
Now, more than 20 years later, I’ve come to recognize that God has a special purpose for my life in offering His comfort, encouragement and hope to others—perhaps even to you or someone you know—on the journey of suffering.

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