Dale Earnhardt Jr., 44, Kannapolis, NC
Sports analyst, retired race car driver
1. Your new memoir, Racing to the Finish, focuses on your serious head injuries and your rehabilitation. Who do you most want to reach?
I want to educate everyone about concussions and what that experience is like. I want to open people’s eyes to how difficult it can be for someone so they have compassion and understanding for what people recovering from head injuries must deal with.
2. Your big crash occurred in 2012. Are you still dealing with it?
Every day, something reminds me of my head injury, even though I feel 100% and completely healthy. When you do normal things like lose your keys, you’re reminded that you had a head injury and wonder if that’s part of it.
3. What did you go through before treatment?
I struggled with high anxiety and emotional instability, which made the severity of my other symptoms multiply. Something as simple as a trip to the grocery store would make my symptoms bug out. My worst fear was that none of this would ever go away.
4. What advice would you give someone who’s coping with a serious head injury?
Get a support system around you, like family, that you can talk to about it. That helps. If you’re alone with this, you can really become hopeless and lost. Don’t walk around feeling like you’re less-than, like you’re damaged goods. That can do bad things to your self-esteem, your confidence, and how you perceive yourself.
5. How do you take care of yourself these days?
Cycling. It makes a huge difference in how I feel physically. If you do anything that helps you physically, that helps bring the anxiety down. And when your anxiety’s low, it’s less likely that something will trigger your symptoms.
6. Is cycling your best health habit?
No. The best habit I have is being disciplined in what I eat. I pay attention to calories, carbs, protein, and fat. It’s a little bit of a pain in the butt to do that every day, but I feel better when I do it -- and gain weight when I don’t.
7. Any guilty pleasure foods?
Fried chicken wings with Buffalo sauce. But I do my best to stay away from them.
8. You and your wife welcomed your first child, Isla, in May. How’s that going?
It’s awesome. She’s a lot of fun, and I’ve never loved something so much in my life. It changes how you look at things, and it changes your priorities quite a bit. All the things you find important get shuffled around.
9. What if she wants to carry on the Earnhardt family tradition of racing?
I’d be very nervous, but whatever she wants to do, I want to be able to give her the opportunity.
10. You’ve granted more than 250 wishes to kids via the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Why is that so important to you?
It has taught me a lot about illnesses and what families deal with and struggle with, and that’s even more critical to me today now that I’m a father. At first, I couldn’t believe anyone would want to spend a wish on coming to a race and meeting me. When they do, I just want to make that child as happy as I can in that moment and show them things that they’ve never seen.
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