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DATELINE: Albertville

February 19, 1992|MIKE KUPPER

If you read the sports pages with any regularity, you might have concluded that some of our most widely known athletes are something less than model citizens. You might even have judged that many are nothing more than spoiled brats.

But there are others who understand that there is life beyond games and self-gratification.

Speedskater Bonnie Blair, a double gold medalist here, and figure skater Paul Wylie, a silver medal winner, were honored Tuesday in La Lechere as winners of Clairol Personal Best Awards, Blair for her work with the Special Olympics for handicapped youngsters, Wylie for his efforts on behalf of the Dana Farber Cancer Research Center at Boston's Children's Hospital. Both are hands-on involved with the afflicted youngsters.

Wylie had an especially poignant story of a young cancer victim, one of several he was to instruct in figure skating during a media gathering. The children were a little late in arriving, though, and time slipped away before he could get to Rena Parab, 10. But she made an impression on him.

"Little Rena had these dark circles under her eyes from the chemo(therapy)," he said.

" . . . The Zamboni came out and the hockey team wanted to get onto the ice, and I said (to Rena), 'Oh, I'll give you a lesson. We'll schedule it.'

"I turned to Rena's mother and I said, 'We'll work it out,' and she said, 'I think you better do it before Thanksgiving because she's really going downhill.'

"And I thought, 'This is so sad. She's had so much disappointment that she doesn't have faith that her daughter will get better.'

"Then my schedule got crazy and I got a letter in January, after I had sort of lost her phone number, saying that (Rena) had passed away. I was really devastated. Talk about your personal best, this is my personal worst in terms of letting somebody else down.

"That is the biggest object lesson I think I ever learned.

"I have a picture of Rena in my room. I have it up there because it reminds me that there are people out there who are waiting and that you shouldn't blow them off because of your schedule. It reminds me of how great a commitment the Jimmy Fund (which raises money for the research center) is, and I'll always be committed to that.

"I got a lot of good-luck messages before I came to the Olympic Games and one of the most special ones was from Mrs. Parab, Rena's mom. She said, 'No matter what you accomplish in the Olympic Games, just remember that you made a little girl very happy because you scheduled a lesson with her.'

"I think I'll never forget (Rena and her) impact on me as a person. It's been said that the truest hero is the hero that lives on in poetry or the spoken word, and that's the kind of person that Rena has become for me, a person who looms large in her absence."

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