By DENNIS DAILY, United Press International  |  Jan. 29, 2002 at 5:33 PM
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Back in 1980 speed skater Eric Heiden captured the attention of the sports world by winning five gold medals during the Winter Games at Lake Placid, N.Y. Among his achievements, both the 500-meter sprint and the 10,000-meter marathon. Now, People magazine profiles the 43-year-old star in his new role. He's an orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine. His practice is in Sacramento, Calif. The publication says Heiden will be on hand for the Salt Lake City games and is anxious to try his skates on the ice there. But, he says, he might not even be allowed on the ice, unless he can pull some strings. Heiden tells the publication he wanted to be a doctor since the time he was 14, but had to put that goal on the back burner while competing in years of skating events. The legendary Olympian's wife is also a surgeon. They have a 5-month-old daughter. The article on Heiden, complete with "then and now" photographs, is just one of nearly a dozen Olympic profiles in People's latest editions.


A project to provide heart defibrillator units in various parts of the Nashville International Airport (BNA) is gaining momentum with the help of a group of country music stars. The airport confirms that local artists are attaching their names to the units, by helping to sponsor the expensive devices. Among those who now have "memorial" defibrillators at the facility are Garth Books, Charlie Daniels, Loretta Lynn and Wynonna. The sponsors of the project -- the folks at the Start-A-Heart charity -- say they hope to get as many as 30 stars to pitch in and help. Each sponsor has a plaque recognizing the contribution placed next to the units, which can restart a heart through the use of an electrical shock.


Venerable funnyman Don Rickels isn't about to retire. The 75-year-old insult expert has just signed a major two-year contract with the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City, N.J., that will see him performing in at least five major engagements. The casino confirms that Rickels' initial gig at the facility's main showroom will be in late April of this year. By the way, the Tropicana has postponed the closing of a special exhibit honoring the men and women who fought in the Second World War. Additionally, when not on the east coast, Rickels performs in Las Vegas at the Stardust.


Josh Graves, the 73-year-old master of the guitar and banjo, has undergone a second leg amputation operation. The news provider says Graves -- known around the world as "Uncle Josh" -- had been having problems with his legs since heart bypass surgery some time ago. Graves had a leg removed last spring and doctors have been working since to save his other leg. Vein grafts were used, but the regimen was not successful. Graves is said to be in good spirits and told friends: "Well, at least it wasn't my hands."


Former first lady Nancy Reagan says that the next recipient of the Ronald Reagan Freedom Award will be former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani. In a statement released to the media, Mrs. Reagan notes that Giuliani showed "remarkable leadership" and his example has "provided us all the strength and comfort to deal with these most difficult times." The man dubbed "Mr. Mayor" will be the eighth recipient of the prestigious award. Other honorees include Mikhail Gorbachev, Colin Powell, Yitzhak Rabin, King Hussein, Margaret Thatcher, the Rev. Billy Graham and Bob Hope. A March 8 date has been set for the $1,000-a-plate dinner at which the award will be presented. The event will take place at the Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles.


Actress Reese Witherspoon has been tapped to play in a movie described by as a "drama set in the world of professional women's tennis." She'll reportedly receive a career-high $8 million for doing the flick. Witherspoon will play a once-popular young player who left the tennis world after losing her cool at a major tournament. Now, at age 24, her character is considered to be washed up with no real future. Relegated to teaching tennis at a private club, she crosses paths with a younger player with the potential to be a superstar but with little discipline and no sense of direction. You can guess what happens. By the way, she is also in the process of producing a sequel to "Legally Blond." It is not certain if she will appear in the film.


Last night I was walking behind a group of high school-age students, headed for the front door of a fast food restaurant. I assumed that the last student would hold the door open for me. I should point out that the last student in line was a male and not a female; had it been a "she" I would have raced forward to make sure she got through. But, the last guy in line didn't hold the door open. Unfortunately I was looking away and smashed into the door as it closed. So: "What about courtesy and etiquette ... do they exist any more?" Put COURTESY in the subject line and send to via the Internet.


Last week we asked about the best job from which you were fired or had to leave for personal reasons. Here are some of the replies: Alch reports a situation that is very common. She writes that she helped an adoption agency grow by 400 percent, only to be fired after 9/11 when the company thought it needed to replace her with someone who would work for half the pay. Ironically, the firm suddenly discovered it needed five people to do her work. Later they called and asked her to come back. NO WAY! She says she didn't burn her bridge to the old company, she bombed it into extinction. She asks if she is "smug" in reporting that. Nope. It took my old radio station three and a half salaries to replace me when I left because they had no idea that I was doing so much work for what they paid me. Candice says she was fired -- at age 18 -- from a job because she didn't worry about getting there on time all the time. Now, at age 27 and back in college, she is beginning to understand what "responsibility" is all about. Barbara says that her company was evicted from its work site and she was laid off -- on the same day she found she was pregnant. Dawn finally fulfilled her life-long dream of becoming a nurse. Then she herniated four discs in her back and needed three surgeries. Now she can't resume her duties. Finally, Len says he had a wonderful job as a driver for a medical center, picking up patients around the Las Vegas Strip. The only bad aspect was dealing with the traffic. A ton of replies came in. Thanks. GBA.


If you haven't seen the new UPI Web site, you really should. It's been completely revamped and contains a great "photo of the day" in living color on the front page. Additionally, by going to the upper right and scrolling to LIFE & MIND in the "View the UPI wire by desk" roster, you can find this column and others that my colleagues and I produce. These include entertainment and Hollywood news from Pat Nason and a Monday-through-Thursday look at entertainment from Vernon Scott, who has been on the Hollywood beat for 50 years.

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