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The Dan Hendricks stories

Back on April 10 I blogged about the Dan Hendricks stories.

Hendricks, trainer of hot Derby contender Brother Derek, now uses a wheelchair, the result of a spinal cord injury a few years back. There continue to be hundreds of the "inspiring overcomer" stories written about him -- latest Google count was over 150 current ones -- including A Trainer's Triumph, the fairly standard example of the genre which graced the top of the front page of Monday's Courier-Journal and made me remember I wanted to return to this theme.

I went back to trusty ol' Google News and in an instant was rewarded with The Washington Post's Hendricks's Spirit Remains Unbroken and the New York Daily News's There is crying in racing. You don't even need to read these stories to know what they're about, do you?

But the best thing I found there was this story from The Bloodhorse, the racing industry publication. The headline caught my attention, and pretty much said it all:
For Hendricks, Dealing With Media Hardest Part of Derby Experience

Not surprising, eh?

Hendricks is attracting a lot of attention at Churchill Downs because Brother Derek is a top Derby contender. But the trainer also is one of the race's most compelling stories because he is paralyzed from the waist because of a motocross accident. The questions about Hendricks' injury and the motorized wheelchair he uses to get around are inevitable. And he must answer them over and over again.

And then, of course, Bloodhorse reporter Dierdre B. Biles does the precise same thing to him. The rest of Biles's story is about -- yeah -- his accident and his "comeback."

"It gets a little monotonous, the same questions," Hendricks tells Biles, in one of those kind of mirror-looking-at-a-mirror reductio ad absurdums you get when reporters write stories about crips who say they don't like people writing stories about them.

Of course Hendricks, like all good sports stars, acts all agreeable when questioned by reporters about all this. To Biles, he says, " . . . but I understand where everybody is coming from. They've got their own paper to write for and their own way they want to put it. It's just part of it."

Yep. It'd be nice if they could get beyond the wheelchair, though.

Readers, help me out here: Click on this Google News link I've fixed up and read some of the stories that appear. Post a comment here on the ones that are particularly galling -- or the ones that manage to get out of the "triumph over adversity" mode and get on with the coverage of the trainer and the horse.


"Daredevil whose luck had run out" (CBS's Sportsline.com)

Well, where to start with this one? At least it does have a few 'realistic' sentences from Dan Henricks and his wife. Even if she (known as 'Sam') doesn't sound too happy that her hubby enjoyed motorcycles in the first place and now...now...THIS! "Sap Stories!"...Egads! What this woman has been put through! Poor thing.

Samantha er, Sam said:

"I remember saying it to Dan when he was in the hospital," recalled Samantha Hendricks, Dan's wife of 19 years and mother of their three sons." 'Watch now, you'll end up with a Derby horse, and it will turn into the biggest sap story that racing's ever seen.'"

Well, credit does have to be given to her as the stories abound.

The author of this article adds this:

"Hopefully, there also will be room for an appreciation of Brother Derek's cool, calculated development from a $275,000 2-year-old, bought by Canadian oilman Cecil Peacock at the 2005 Barretts March sale.

Although he deserves all manner of praise, Hendricks takes no particular credit, other than being in the right place with the right...." blah blah blah...

Why did this author have to say "Although he deserves all manner of praise, Hendricks takes no particular credit, other than....."??

Why Does Hendricks deserve all manner of praise? Because he's a man who got into an accident, became disabled and is still alive?

Why not praise all of us who are disabled then?

We are worthy of praise just as much as the next guy even if some were not in an accident. The very fact that you exist and breath and eat and well, are among the living--should shout to all authors that all of the disabled, all 56 million of us, deserve to be praised.

Now that'd be the day, wouldn't it?

Back to the wife, Sam, the day of the accident. Remember she said this while he was laid up in a hospital bed and brand spanking new to being paralyzed:

"I remember saying it to Dan when he was in the hospital," recalled Samantha Hendricks, Dan's wife of 19 years and mother of their three sons." 'Watch now, you'll end up with a Derby horse, and it will turn into the biggest sap story that racing's ever seen.'"

But what a thing to say to her husband ..while he's laid up ..newly paralyzed.. in a hospital bed!

Does anyone in their right mind honestly believe that Dan was thinking about media coverage that day? Or could he have been thinking of more pressing things, say like,,,paralysis?

With support like that..well...

excuse me if I don't appreciate where her concern seemed to have been first directed. Not on supporting her husband but rather the "Sap Stories." Was it her reputation she was worried about when she made that comment to her 'newly paralyzed' husband? Sounds like an ex of mine.

Upon her arrival at the hospital she is quoted as thinking this but not saying it outloud:

" I could have said 'I told you so,' but I didn't," she said. "And yes, Dan said he was sorry. More than once." (I didn't hear anyone ask her if Dan is sorry for being disabled now. Does anyone else read that in this article? Why did she add "And yes, Dan said he was sorry. More than once.?")

How must Dan have felt? The man had been married to her for 19 years at this point, he had to have known her enough to know what her attitude really was even if she didn't say it outloud. She's needs the back of a han...well, no point in saying it.

In this article we read how he says "he's sorry" many times over for being now a...of all things...a C c c c..c..r..r ..i..i..p.pp..le. There, I said it.

Even if the article doesn't use the "C" word.

Why should he apologize? Can it be that those around him (like Sam the uplifter/support system/adorable wife ad naseum) all had attitudes that we can catch onto even if they are not spoken outloud? Everybody who is disabled knows..er most of us know or can sense that attitude.

The author of this article, to his credit and dis-credit says this of Dan's media attention:

"As a result, nearly 22 months after that terrible day, Hendricks finds himself training his first Derby starter while in a wheelchair, far from his comfort zone, his every public move subjected to the glare of media exposure.

Whether he is operating his six-wheel, all-terrain, 240-pound Magic Mobility Frontier chair, or rolling along in his more conventional lightweight manual chair, Hendricks will be a moving target for every media magpie intent on leaving not a dry eye in the house."

I say the author is credited as speaking truth but why did he have to place an ad with neon lights beckoning more attention to Dan now by saying this part? .."Whether he is operating his six-wheel, all-terrain, 240-pound Magic Mobility Frontier chair, or rolling along in his more conventional lightweight manual chair"

That's like placing an ad to all the little boys around the globe that says "Cool Toys! Six Wheelers! All Terrain!! 240-pound Magic Mobility Frontier chair!!..Come, For Free, and GAWK!!"

It is bad enough that it appears Dan is just now letting out his real emotions, after 22 months of pretending. Even though articles like this waver between being on the side of the disabled or biased against him.

Statements throughout this article and even the people used as examples show the bias of the author mingled in with the glimpses of truth. (I hope this is making sense to others what I'm trying to say).

This is the first thing that got me on the first go around with Dan back in April. It just seems to me like the guy has had to hold a whole lot inside because those around him seem like the type who "expect" that from him.

It's good to see him saying some real things now, like:

"That's the most frustrating thing, that I can't handle the horses anymore," Hendricks said. "I used to gallop them myself, and straighten out one that needed it. Or grab a shank. Or get on a pony and teach a horse something when it was necessary. It was a tool, and it was something I enjoyed.

"Now I have to tell people what to do and how to do it. But maybe it's for the better. I have to sit down and watch everything. Still, I wish I'd been able to get on Brother Derek once, just to feel him. Just to have the fun of riding him."

Also realistic things like:

"I don't like looking up at people all the time," he said.

Neither does he enjoy the poorly camouflaged sympathy that makes him feel more self-conscious than he already is. (this statement is made, to his credit, by the author of this article).

Dan continues "I sense it from people, as anyone would when they first meet someone in a chair," he said. "Then as soon as they get over the fact that they don't need to be so worried about me, it's over. They always want to be helpful, and that's nice. When you're in this situation you have to use people to help you at times."

And this:

"What's really weird is that in the beginning it was a feeling of floating, or like I was hanging," Hendricks said. "Totally different than I would have imagined it. In rehab, it was like teaching a newborn to walk. I had to learn the little things I do now to get into position to get up, or to transfer" - from bed to chair, or chair to car seat - "and now it's becoming natural."

Then the author of this article adds this quote from a "Super Achieving Award Winning Cartoonist.":

"The big thing about being paralyzed isn't that you can't folk dance, or date any more girls who don't live in ground-floor apartments. It's the dependency. You lose your control over your environment, and you just have to keep inside yourself and find a strong place, to survive."

- John Callahan, award-winning cartoonist and author, a quadriplegic with partial use of his hands since a 1972 car wreck at age 21 (riding with friend driving drunk).

Unfortunately, I'm still getting the sense of his surrounding "friends/loved ones." Because he says things like this also:

"I was not the nicest guy to live with that first year," Hendricks conceded. "I put my family through a lot. I just hope they forgive me. But I know what situations like this can do to a marriage, especially if things weren't going that good before it happened."

How does he know what these situation can do to a marriage? Had he studied these situations? Did he have a friend or someone else he knew who he learned this knowledge from? Or Could it be that he's speaking of his own marriage here? Something tells me 'yes,' it is his own marriage he's describing.

And he doesn't know yet if "his family has forgiven him" because he "wasn't the nicest guy" that first year? Why doesn't he know by now? It's been 22 months.

You would think, by now anyhow, that he'd know if they've "forgiven" him. (I hate that word in this situation! I'm talking about that "f" word).

Although the paper is sure to mention a well known celebrity this time. As if to cover for Dan's honest thoughts. The writer of this piece has to add:

Quoting Christopher Reeves:

"My first reaction after I'd been injured was that I'd done the unthinkable. Not only had I injured myself, but those around me, because they would be affected - my wife, my children. It was not my own mess, but a mess for everybody. So at first I was very guilty."

Christopher Reeve, the actor who played Superman in four films, paralyzed from the neck down in a 1995 show-jumping fall at age 43. He died in 2004.

Even though all this is not in the order the article is written, the big picture is easy enough to see, if you look. All the elements of Dan wanting to be real about his situation but the writer of this article plus Dan's wife, his friends from the April articles and these articles seem to be polar opposites.

What a sad situation and these happen every day. Somebody gets into a bad accident et-cetera, ends up disabled and they can't just be themselves. They must, at all costs, pretend for the sake of their peers. This is the sickening sad part of these stories also. It truly leaves the person, now disabled, feeling very very alone in this world (I know what I'm talking about!) On top of the usuall phrases that are used in this article, like this:

"He broke his arm once playing football in junior high and never told anybody. He's a very determined person." Says his brother about Dan's football career.

And this about Dan's brother--because, afterall, we do read about the good genetics of the parents in this family:

"... for making the most of genetic gifts supplied by a set of parents who were more comfortable on horseback than afoot"--Which is as useless as teets on a bull considering the good genetics of those parents was in the context of being on horseback not playing football, nor riding motorcycles for that matter.

Did the writer of this article think of this when basically blaming Dan for riding motorcycles instead of riding horses as his goodly parents gave him the genetics to do so?

Did the writer get a sudden attack of forgetfulness and negect to add that the parents also passed on the good genetics of playing football (just like Dan, John too, inherited these 'genetics') as well as being "afoot" and motorcycle riding?

Or is there some bias showing through in this piece. I'll take this last answer as the real cause of speaking of genetics when it comes to disability. Afterall, Dan is now disabled and his brother John "....is still possessed of a strong grip that fits just fine with his current ride, a Harley Davidson Road King."

"John Hendricks, who is a supervisor for the Santa Fe Irrigation District of north San Diego County, is also a lifelong motorcycle rider who

had a good portion of his right hand sliced away when it was tangled in the chain of another bike during a racing crash three years ago.

Left with a thumb and forefinger, he is still possessed of a strong grip that fits just fine with his current ride, a Harley Davidson Road King." Adds the writer of this article.

And here, about Dan from his wife 'Sam':

"In terms of physical recovery, he was at eight months where most people are in four years," she noted. "It was an amazing recovery. But I wasn't surprised. Still, you can never put yourself in the place of someone in a wheelchair. I can't, and I live with him. He deals so well with the frustrations - all the little things that have become so difficult. I suppose he could be keeping it all inside, but I hope not." From his loving wife just after she had said what she was thinking after racing to the hospital the day of his accident..namely:

"I could have said 'I told you so,' but I didn't," she said. "And yes, Dan said he was sorry. More than once."

Is anyone else catching the attitude and expectations of the people around Dan like I am? Or am I just imagining an unrealistic picture?

Please read the article before it disappears. Besides the cliches we're used to hearing, my focus is on Dan and what he's having to hold back in terms of emotions/fears and him having to pretend to be what he is not due to peers. What type of support is he getting besides "rehab?" Emotional support i.e. can he cry? Is it permissable with his wife or so called friends that he not be a "happy camper or Hero?" Those kinds of things.

What if Dan is really depressed? It seems to me this is a good possibility but then again, maybe I'm reading all this the wrong way.

The Emotional/mental/spiritual aspect is far worse than the actual disability because he can adjust to the disability slowly with enough support (rehab as one). But how many people committed suicide because they could not do this pretending on the outside and consequently everybody in their life decided they were too uncomfortable to hear/listen to honest fears/depression/anger et cetera?

If this weren't my strong conviction, I wouldn't bother commenting because the cliches will probably always be around. We've fought against those for so many years it's nuts and they are still here. John Q. Public still doesn't get it. Makes me wonder if they ever will or they simply chose not to "get it".

Personally, my belief is that most of John Q. Public do "get it" but they want us to stay in our places. And our place is one that posits them (the non-disabled or able bodied...choose whatever PC term is correct for the day) one better or higher up on the food chain.

Thus, we are to be pitiful, the unfit, the outcasts, the last to be hired, if at all, the ones who need them, the dregs of society draining it's money with our useless selves.

Unless of course, we fit the "HERO" image they've created in their heads. And yet all the while they loathe us unless there's a story to be made or moreover a buck to be made.

But those of us, being disabled, feeling completely alone with loved ones all around us, friends all around us, reporters all around us (if you make "Hero" status, that is), et-cetera, is the worst thing to experience.

Somebody tell me they enjoy the emotional/mental/spiritual isolation.

This isolation can also come from IHSS workers who work for you who come in and begin by telling you how so and so just takes their disability "with Grace and Never talks about it."

Anybody out there ever hear of an IHSS worker or friend/loved one say this crapola to you?

It is just that crapola that leaves people who have just become or have been disabled yet without any support or anyone to talk with, feeling not just alone but like the loneliest person on the face of this planet.

These articles, friends and loved ones want a hero. Dan wants to just be Dan and say it like it is and this doesn't match their "Super-Hero/Overachiever/Quick/great leader/ Recoverer/Overcomer/Disabled Role Model etc. etc." personna.

Just a few cents worth of thoughts...


Bless you for your grand and ruthlessly truthful blogs on the Hendricks stories. I trust that he read them as well.

Nothing is more oppressive than the cultural oppression--and I mean nothing. If tomorrow the cultural oppression were magically lifted, I dare say I wouldn't even consider myself "handicapped"--just like the little lame deer who comes to nibble the apples I throw out, I would have no consciousness of my otherness, only love.

I am so feckin' tired of not only having to cope with a body that doesn't work, but with having to fit the narrowly defined storylines that are forced on me. If I choose not to be "inspirational", well then I must be "bitter and negative," with the implication that if I only changed my attitude I too would be "handicapable."