I hope the title caught your eye and made you wonder: What could Sue possibly have in common with these two people?
I don’t know much about Steve Jobs personally. I do know he changed the way most of us live our daily lives. You don’t have to own a piece of Apple equipment (that would be me) to realize if you enjoy the improvements in technology regarding computers or cell phones, you’ve benefitted from Steve Job’s time on earth.
Dan Wheldon. His death is still too fresh and surreal to those of us who admired him to be able to say his name without an invisible lump forming in our throats and a tear ready to slide down our cheek. 😦
Mr. Wheldon… how I enjoyed his presence during his much too short time on earth. Most people who recognized the name knew him as a two time winner of the Indianapolis 500. Those of us whose lives were brightened by his existence knew that he was much more than that. He was one of those rare humans who leave a lasting mark on the people they meet. A man who had the gift of a smile that reached beyond his eyes. A character that reached out and embraced yours. A passion to pursue his dreams and along the way, make you feel somehow a part of it.
I had the unforgettable pleasure of meeting Mr. Wheldon in 2006 and again in 2008 at Kentucky Speedway.
In 2006, he was a part of Chip Ganassi’s Team Target Indy racing team, along with Scott Dixon. There was an opportunity to meet the two of them at the Target trailer, before the race. To say I was looking forward to the chance to speak to Mr. Wheldon is like saying Bill Gates is worth a bit of money!
I got in line with an assortment of other folks. Some were fans of Dan or Scott Dixon. Many were there to get as much merchandise signed as possible, to sell via various auction sites.
Me? I held my newly acquired 8 x 10 of Mr. Wheldon and noticed as the time got closer: a) it was bloody hot out and I was spitting cotton, and b) in my excitement, I’d forgotten to eat all day and my blood sugar was dropping badly.
The appointed time arrived and my voice morphed into this humiliating combination of Minnie Mouse and Julia Child. My hands started to rattle so badly that the photo and small Indy car I held were bobbing about like jumping beans.
Watching these two racing stars interact with “the fans”, they appeared polite and cordial, but nothing special.
I encounteted Scott Dixon first. I am now ashamed that I was truthful, but tact was nowhere to be found. I told him, “I’m sure you’re very nice, but I’m here to see him” (pointing to Mr. Wheldon). At this, Dan grinned like the Cheshire Cat, but I now cringe at my rudeness.
Nevertheless, there I was, face to face with #10 himself. I handed him the car first, he dutifully signed it. Then the photo. He prepared to sign it. I meekly squeaked out, “would you sign it To Sue?” His demeanor instantly changed. He looked me in the eye and asked, seemingly surprised, “Is this for YOU?” and I replied, “well, YAY-eah, who else would it be for? I’m certainly not giving it away.” His face seemed to light up a bit and he asked if I’d like to have him write anything special? I suppose I was feeling mischievous… I asked if he’d write anything I wanted. He said sure. I said, “okay, make it out to Woman of My Dreams” and smiled (as if this then 46 year old worn out overweight woman with no makeup and covered in sweat could ever be that!!). He started writing and I squawked, “you’re writing THAT??” He was. We talked, my hands rattled, and I felt like I was talking with a friend.
He noticed the camera in my hand and asked if I’d like to take a picture? That camera bounced in my hand like cars on the streets during pothole season. At that, he stood up, called someone over and asked him to take our photo. WHAT? After the photo, he gave me a hug and a peck on the cheek. At this point, I was ready to just evaporate!
I thanked him for his kindness and stayed nearby to watch until it was over.
He also showed extreme compassion for a handicapped young man who was over the moon at meeting him, coming out of the trailer to pose side by side with him and talk quietly. I think that’s when I was completely won over by his character.
In the years since, I’ve read countless stories of his kindness, generosity, philanthropic acts, friendliness with everyone he worked with, no matter their position, his prankster nature, and how much he adored his wife and two little boys.
He was also an avid champion of making the sport of Indy racing as safe as possible. Which makes his death in that horrific, fiery crash at Las Vegas Speedway’s race as a result of a 15 car pileup all the more ironic.
What’s the mark they each left on this world got to do with me?
Steve Jobs – admiration for a person who could create great things, as he did, and the stories I’ve read since his death of his profoundly positive effect on people. The effect his call to follow your own passion has had on countless people (myself included).
Dan Wheldon – his death blindsided his many friends and fans. What I have found so heartening in the outpouring of love and concern toward Dan and his family is the dual sentiment of grief for his passing and the call to carry on as Dan would have wanted people to. Live life to the fullest, pursue your passions with excellence, do what you can to leave this world a better place, be the kind of person that people are glad to have known.
I’m trying to do that. I’m not even in the shadow of their caliber. But I’m inspired into action by the example their lives have set.
Goodbye Steve Jobs.
Farewell Mr. Wheldon. Miss you much. 😦