My open letter to Denny Hamlin.
I bet John doesn’t remember this, but he and I have actually had small form of communication before I started writing for TJR Sports. It happened about three years ago, while I was in the hospital. He had a podcast he was doing at the time, and if you sent in a shout out request that caught his eye, he’d read it. Mine got read, and I saved the podcast and became a faithful follower of John’s ever since.
So why was I in the hospital to begin with? Well that’s a little bit of a long story. But it’s why I feel Denny Hamlin should take the last ten races off to fix his back.
Cauda Equina Syndrome is when the nerve roots in the spinal column that control the legs, feet, and pelvic organs are compressed. I had no clue what this was before October 29th 2010; like I’m sure most of you don’t know. I’ve researched, studied, experienced, lived, and overcome it since that time. It all started back in May of 2010, when I was pulling fencing up in my field. I twisted, or turned, or something that I don’t even know when suddenly I felt an intense pain run through my lower back.
I couldn’t sit for a long time, couldn’t stand for even less, and began seeing a chiropractor on a weekly base. Than on October 29th, I went down into my basement to get some meat out of a spare freezer. I came upstairs, sat down in my office chair and that was the last time I didn’t feel any tingling in my left foot.
I thought it was tightness, a sore muscle that was causing an ache in my back. It was new, it was different, and then I stood up and everything changed. I’ll gloss over a lot of the uncomfortable specifics, but I spent that night on the floor, afraid I couldn’t get up, and then two days later finally went to the hospital. I was taken over a hundred and twenty miles to get the treatment I needed to at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ypsilanti, Michigan.
That following Tuesday I had a surgery, that I should have had the Friday it happened. I went to rehab closer to home in Kalamazoo, with strict instructions that I followed to the letter. I got an infection (that I often suspect was caused by my determination to get closer to home and not letting all the fluids from surgery drain properly) somewhere along that week, and had a second surgery back in Ypsilanti the following Monday.
As time heals all wounds, we tend to forget so some of the details are fuzzy on exacts. There are two things that I will never forget. , Dr. Anthony Cucchi, who performed my operations, did not have a very good bed side manner. But he’s a damn good surgeon and one hell of a motivator. The second was I was very, very determined to not let this thing define me. So I did all the rehab, following blindly. Anything that was asked, I did that and more.
I walked into his office for my final follow up in March of 2011. Dr. Cucchi was in shock that I had no cane, no walker, nothing to help me balance or walk. I was standing up right, and walking on my own. I’d later found out his shock was attributed to the fact he told my parents after my first surgery he didn’t believe I’d walk again due to the damage.
It all started with some back pain. And that’s why I’ve written this article as a personal plea to Denny Hamlin. Ya see racing is different than most sports. Most sports you find one team, and your loyalties are to them. Racing you tend to latch onto the driver, not the team.
And while Dale Earnhardt Jr., will always be my favorite, there about six or seven drivers I have a soft spot for, and want to see do well. Denny Hamlin is one of them, from the first win at Daytona in the Budweiser Shootout, to now. I always liked Denny for some reason. Maybe it was because he was running in the same crowd at the time of Dale Jr., and Tony Stewart, maybe it was the fact he was the first rookie I saw any potential in.
So when he had his crash at Auto Club and had to sit out due to major concerns with his back, I became concerned for him just as well. I knew he had some back issues before, but didn’t let on to the severity of it until the last few months. My first point of concern was when he said he was still having issues around June. He still then had a Chase shot if he got the wild card.
I wanted to wait and write this when everything was official. When there was no longer a chance at all, because the field was set for good for the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup. So I’m writing this now saying Denny Hamlin has to do the hardest thing a race car driver can do, for the second time this season. Give up his car to heal his body.
Denny has said there is a surgery that could possibly help ease some of this pain he is in due to his back. That there is nothing for sure that will help, only possibilities. It’s time to step aside to do any rehab or surgeries to get it fixed even if it’s just a possibility. Denny has a very young little girl at home, and a lot of life left to live. He shouldn’t do it in pain.
Denny said he wouldn’t step away from the 11 team because there was still a chance to make the chase. That he was the face of the 11 and he was what Fed Ex was paying precious sponsor dollars to see on the track. He’s right, and Fed Ex pays to see Denny, not someone else on the track. But these are extreme circumstances; circumstances that need to be understood and met. A lot of drivers fear if they aren’t racing, and someone else does better in their car they’ll lose their ride. I don’t see Joe Gibbs doing that to a driver who has done so much for him. I also don’t see a company like Fed Ex leaving the 11 team either.
I’m saying this because his racing career is second to his well being of life, no matter what he may think. A small daughter, a chance at grand children, and a happy life, possibly pain free is more important than ten races in a lost season. Do what needs to be done to heal your body, spend the next few months with your family and then come back if not pain free, in far less pain in Daytona, and happier.
I know Denny’s injury versus my issue is comparing apples to oranges. That has not escaped me in the slightest. But anytime I hear about someone with back pain, my concerns become immediate and thoughts remind me of the scar that runs the lower half of my back.
I’m going to tweet this article to Denny and JGR’s twitter. I doubt it’ll be read by anyone with any connection to Denny that would share it with him or the man himself. Yet it’s worth a shot in today’s life of social media for a concerned fan to voice his or her opinion. I often feared in the three to four weeks of writing this article it would be overly personal, and the message would get lost, along with many bad memories being brought up for me personally. Instead it did the exact opposite. In reality, it’s been the catalyst that’s helped me move past my own problems with the past.
I’m going to end this article with the same advice I got just encase this by some miracle is read by Denny. If you want to be active while being pain free, play with kids, if you want any chance at a happy, normal life for the next forty years, then don’t worry about anything else and do what you have to do to heal your back.