During the Olympics, NCAA Basketball tournament and the Super Bowl media weeks….there are always human interest stories that are told to tug at our hearts and to “show that it is just a game” and that real life is much harsher. We get told of a player who came from a tough upbringing or someone who fought the odds medically just to compete. Sometimes the media gets sappy with these stories….and some of these stories are really, really heartbreaking.
The Olympics are usually chock full of these stories. One, so it brings us the viewer into these people and root for them because we seem to know them now after hearing of their troubles. If we see a story of the female judo entry and her battles with breast cancer…we are more apt to watch that event since we now “know” someone in the event. Two….especially when the athlete they are profiling is from another country….is shows that no matter how far apart and different our cultures may be…..people are people and we have the same kind of personal struggles no matter what language we speak.
One that really got to me is the story of Walter Herrmann. By now, many of you may know Herrmann as the “Lord Of The Rings” looking guy for the Argentine basketball team. The “white Karl Malone”….if that isn’t an oxy-moron. The guy had one heck of a semifinal game against Team USA. Then, later that night, I learned of his personal story…..which is truly tragic.
Herrmann is 25 years old. He is one of two new members to the Argentina team that won the silver medal in the 2002 World Championships. In 2002-2003.…he was the MVP of the Spanish league in which he played in as a rookie.
On July 18, 2003.…a car was driving along a country road and collided, head-on, with a car with an older couple. The car contained Herrmann’s sister, mother and fiancé….as well as two friends of the family. Everyone in the accident died.
The day that happened, Herrmann was training with the National team. He had a little time off between practices….and called his girlfriend’s family, which is where the car was headed. That was when he learned of his fiancée dying. He was so upset that he trashed the hotel room in which he was staying.
Now, I just stated he learned of his girlfriend’s death…….no one told him of the others’ fate. In a car on the way to the airport [to go and be with his girlfriend’s parents]….he made a few phone calls and learned about the deaths of his mother and sister. He flew to Buenos Aires…drove a few hours to the village where all of the bodies were located.
After a period of mourning….Herrmann decided to rejoin his Spanish league team and resume his career. When the season ended, he went back to Argentina to try out for the Olympic team. He earned a spot on that team….and on the one year anniversary of the tragedy…July 18, 2004.…he had 38 points and 11 boards to win the South America Championship and a berth in the Olympic Games.
When Herrmann returned to his hotel room….he learned that his father died of a heart attack.
He surprised everyone and kept his commitment to the Argentine team. And now, he has a gold medal to remind him how strong he has been in a time that would have broken many of us. So when I saw him on the medal stand accepting his gold medal…..I just had to think…..how alone he must feel with his family gone in such a quick, tragic way. Yet, how proud he must be to achieve something in a team context like that. And yet….how admired he is by the world who just now has learned of his story.