This article was originally published on MTAF Wheels, which is now dark. Thank you for enjoying it here, through the Live Full Throttle Archives.
Sports give us an escape from everyday trials and tribulations. Or least they should.
They are supposed to be a distraction. They are supposed to entertain us and allow us to get away from all of life’s worries for a few hours. They aren’t supposed to make your heart feel heavy or your tear ducts swell up (unless it is happy tears because who you were rooting for wins a championship).
But cancer doesn’t care about all of that.
Cancer doesn’t care who you are rooting for. It doesn’t distinguish between good guys and bad guys, favorites and underdogs. And unfortunately, that reality hit the NASCAR community (actually, the entire racing community) hard this past week as Steve Byrnes passed away after his battle with cancer.
I, like many others who have expressed their condolences, never actually met Steve Byrnes. But it still felt like he was someone I knew. After all, he came into my living room on a regular basis bringing me the latest NASCAR news or interviews with drivers. He was one of the best there was and according to those who actually knew the man, he was better than that.
On Sunday, Bristol Motor Speedway and NASCAR came together and renamed the Food City 500 to the Food City 500 In Support of Steve Byrnes and Stand up to Cancer. While Byrnes was unable to attend, his family was there as Byrnes watched and tweeted out his gratitude. NASCAR on FOX put together an amazing pre-race video in honor of Byrnes, with his son Bryson being the final one to talk.
And then Monday night came word that the family was in need of thoughts and prayers and it made you start to wonder how much time Byrnes had left. That didn’t stop him from posing for picture (and of course smiling) when his nephew visited him in the hospital. It was a picture that instantly made its way around Twitter and brought with it a battle of emotions. You could see that he wasn’t doing well but you could also see that smile.
Again, cancer didn’t care. It didn’t take mercy on one of the good guys. Cancer knew it was in for a fight because not only was Byrnes strong, but he had a hell of a support system around him. And Byrnes fought right down to the end.
When Byrnes passed away on Tuesday, the racing community basically took over Twitter and relayed their memories of Byrnes, one after another after another. Like I said, I never had the pleasure of meeting Steve Byrnes. And while I shouldn’t feel the need to cry when someone I have never met passes away, I couldn’t help but shed a few tears for the man.
I have read (and watched) numerous tributes to Byrnes in the past few days. Each and every one is just as gut-wrenching and tear-jerking as the next, while also being heartwarming. Hearing and reading drivers and colleagues eulogize a man that they all loved and all respected has been a silver lining to a terrible week. To see the racing community come together as a whole to honor him would probably put a smile on Byrnes’ face, but would also make him uncomfortable from the attention.
No matter the context, the final tweet that Byrnes sent out was perfect:
@maxinem I went the distance
— Steve Byrnes (@SteveByrnes12) April 20, 2015
While thinking about the journey Byrnes took and the fight that he showed over the past few months while battling cancer, I couldn’t help but think about a passage in the speech that Stuart Scott delivered at the ESPYs last summer.
“When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live. So live. Live. Fight like Hell. And when you get too tired to fight, lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you.”
That passage fits Byrnes perfectly. He lived. He fought. And he let others fight for him when he felt like he couldn’t. Like Scott, Byrnes didn’t lose the fight to cancer. Byrnes went the distance in his fight with cancer and has been declared a winner on every scorecard.
Byrnes also exemplified what Jim Valvano said in closing in his 1993 ESPYs speech:
“Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever.”
At no point did it seem that Byrnes had allowed cancer to touch his mind, his heart or his soul.
Maybe cancer thinks it won this round because Byrnes ultimately passed away. But that’s not accurate. Byrnes won. And we won. Because we got to see a man fight for his life and become an inspiration even in his darkest hours. We saw a man smile when he should frown, laugh when he should cry and send out positive message when it would have been easier to give up.
So once again, cancer loses.
Because F*** cancer.