As sports fans, we all share in the victories of our favorite teams. We celebrate our hometown champions. New England is well-versed in celebrating victory, with four storied sports teams bringing home trophy after trophy.
But there are also champions in our everyday lives; ordinary people who do extraordinary things. That was the message at the Champions Lunch in Boston, hosted by five-time Sprint Cup Champion Jimmie Johnson. "It's about the people," explained Johnson. "We are all only as good as our weakest link. We are a team and no one person is successful alone."
In honor of the survivors of the Boston Marathon and in honor of the many first responders who risk their lives each and every day in their own communities, New Hampshire Motor Speedway VP and GM Jerry Gappens made a few special announcements about the upcoming race weekend, July 11-14.
"We have reached out to some of our corporate partners and they are contributing money to allow us to host thousands of first responders and their families at the races," says Gappens. "So far, we have delivered 2,000 tickets and the program will run right up to race weekend. We are using the platform of the largest sporting event to get this message out; to say thanks to the first responders."
In addition, NHMS has created a special tee-shirt which will be on sale all weekend long, to raise funds for the survivors of the Boston Marathon. Emblazoned with the "Boston Strong" motto, the speedway expects to sell out of the shirts.
"We will use the venue, and the 100,000 people who will visit, to be a platform for the survivors," explains Gappens. "Race fans love tee-shirts, and they love a purpose. We expect these shirts will sell in big numbers. And in addition, our chapter of Speedway Children's Charities will take steps to help the young people who have been affected by these recent tragic events."
"Our champion first responders always go the extra mile without giving a second thought to what might happen to them," explained Gappens. "Our race this summer is the 301, going the extra mile in honor of our heroes."
The Champions Lunch was originally going to celebrate our local sports stars along with Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson. But after April 15th, the purpose of the event changed. Johnson and Gappens decided to honor heroes in our community, like MBTA officer Richard Donohue, who thanked the public for their support and donations, and talked about his recovery.
"I have severe nerve damage in my foot, and I may never return to the job I love, but I am optimistic," said Donohue. "Those first responders who supported us; to me, these people are the champions. Without their support we couldn't physically, mentally or emotionally heal from these attacks."
The sports heroes who attended, all of them champions in their field, offered high praise for the survivors and for the efforts to continue to highlight their recovery. "I was excited to meet Dick Donohue. He is a hero to me," says Johnson.
The sports stars were all asked what they think makes a champion. Jo Jo Smith, of the Boston Celtics championship teams in the 70s, said it's not about any one person. "T-E-A-M. There is no "I". Basketball is a group activity."
Jimmie Johnson pointed to all of the unsung heroes behind the scenes of every high profile person. He echoed that there is no individual success in life or in sport. "Fans see the driver and the car, but they don't realize the aspects behind the scenes. We have 600 employees that work to get our cars on the track."
"We had lots of characters on our team, but we always stuck together," said Johnny Bucyk, NHL champion from the Boston Bruins. "Loyalty has to be a big factor in a championship, loyalty to your teammates and to your organization. You have to have the desire to go out and win, but you have to enjoy what you are doing, too."
Baseball legend Tim Wakefield shared the camaraderie that goes into a championship season. "We had 25 different personalities on our 2004 Red Sox team. The band of brothers or idiots like we called ourselves, we became a family, with people like Jonny Damon and Kevin Millar. When it was time to take the field, we jelled together and we were all on the same page."
"You dedicate your life to your sport, or to your profession, that is a key piece to success," explained Johnson. "It is our passion. You gotta have a heart for the sport and the work ethic that comes with it. You have to work hard. There is something that separates individuals and teams and I think it's heart. I didn't know I was good at dealing with pressure until I was in it and came out on the other side decent. Every one of us has had that moment when the pressure is unbearable, and you don't know until you deal with it."
Three-time Super Bowl winner Joe Andruzzi spends much of his time working in the community, and helping those less fortunate than he. He says in our daily lives, success is exactly the same as winning it all on a football field. "It's incredible to be here with such a wonderful gathering of sports stars and survivors," says Andruzzi. "I'm proud to be here."
Following the event, all five sports stars climbed into their iRacing seats and took ten laps around New Hampshire Motor Speedway, to celebrate the upcoming New Hampshire 301 on July 14th. After a brief tutorial by Johnson, the group roared around the course on the high-tech video game. Although Johnson took the checkered flag, he was disqualified for having too much experience. The victory was handed to Patriots great Joe Andruzzi.