Twenty-five years ago, “Dancing With The Stars” contestant Michael Waltrip’s mother suffered a stroke because of a heart condition called A-Fib, short for atrial fibrillation. An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. Just a few weeks ago, this NASCAR champion shared his mom’s story and his quest to bring awareness to this potentially life-threatening heart condition where the heart races or is out of rhythm and affects more than 2.7 million Americans.
At the time of this interview, it was A-Fib Awareness Month and Waltrip partnered with Jensen Pharmaceuticals, ‘to encourage folks if they have A-Fib or irregular heartbeat to see their physicians and find medicines that don’t come with restrictions,” he said. “Mom is 87 years old and, unfortunately, she’s stuck in a wheelchair. It’s frustrating for Momma – she wants to be out on the streets walking with her friends but she can’t do those things.”
Waltrip, with his siblings, has taken care of his mother since and, to increase awareness, has encouraged fans to submit photos and A-Fib stories to MyAFibStory.com. The photo submission is now closed, but for each photo, Jensen donated to the American Heart Association and fans could appear on Waltrip’s Talladega racecar on October 19.
“Mom has to have 24/7 care, so that’s a real challenge, but we all pitched in and do our part, and that’s the beauty of having my sister next door,” he says.
When he’s not caregiving or racing, he’s been learning the waltz and the jive step for the reality show competition. “I’m happy. I love being able to be a part of the NASCAR world,” he said. “I drove for 30 years and now owning teams is something that I really enjoy doing. Now, ‘Dancing With the Stars’ is just a blast.”
Waltrip is paired with professional dancer Emma Slater and has, so far, survived the first few weeks of the season.
“I’m going to start dancing my big butt across the dance floor, and get to work to finish off that dance that I’ve got to do,” he says. “I want to thank all of the NASCAR fans that voted for Emma and me — and got us through the weeks. And I look forward to being a part of the story going forward.”
He’s enjoyed working with Slater, too. “Emma’s a sweet girl,” he says. “She’s the perfect partner for me. When I saw her dancing with Bill Engvall a few years ago, I thought that would be the perfect partner for me. When I got a chance, I said I’ll do it but I’ve got to have Emma. They said we can’t promise you that, but I said I have to and it worked out.”
Waltrip adds that he’s excited about getting into shape from dancing so much. “We dance from 6 to 10 p.m. and, after you work so hard, eating a big meal doesn’t make any sense, so I’ve definitely lost some weight and am getting in touch with my abs. I used to have one ab, now I think I see two. I’m just trying my best to make Emma proud of me so that we can have success on the dance floor.”
Like any champ, he says that he signs up to race because, of course, he wants to win. “If I feel like I don’t think I can, I won’t do it anymore,” he says. “That’s why I wanted to be on ‘Dancing With The Stars’ – I wanted to learn how to dance, and I’m learning quickly. I have my work cut out for me on that end, but I know I can go to Talladega and win!”
“Dancing With the Stars” airs Monday nights on ABC.
To hear Lisa and E.J.’s entire interview with Michael Waltrip, visit blogtalkradio.com/sportspalooza.