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Receiver Ward's dancing makes him stronger

LOS ANGELES — Hines Ward returns to reality next week.

The Steelers wide receiver and freshly minted "Dancing With the Stars" champion will undergo surgery Tuesday to repair ligament damage in his left thumb.

The procedure will serve as a reminder that Ward still has a day job after going Hollywood in early March and beating 11 other celebrities in the 12th season of "DWTS."

The thumb injury is something Ward has dealt with since the end of the 2010 season. He had minor surgery on his left knee in February, not long after the Steelers' 31-25 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV, but it hardly slowed him down.

Indeed, his stint on "DWTS" — and all of the work that went into his performances — only seemed to make Ward's knee stronger.

He and partner Kym Johnson looked like had been dancing together for years, as they waltzed their way to the Mirror Ball Trophy. In the process, Ward made a believer out of at least one "DWTS" contestant that initially underestimated him.

"When I first saw Hines, I kind of sized him up, like a fighter. I said 'I got this guy' because he's big and sluggish," said former boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard, who was eliminated from "DWTS" in mid-April. "What he's been able to do, I have been blown away. He moved. He had charisma. He had personality. He did all of the things that made him win."

Ward made it look easy at times even though he had no background in dancing. The four-time Pro Bowler credited the same discipline he applies to his football training as helping him become — or at least come across as — a quick study.

But even Ward didn't know what he was getting into when he signed on for the show.

"I disrespected the show when I first came on. I said, 'Oh, I can do that,' but a lot of hard work goes into it," said Ward, who turned 35 in March. "It's grueling."

It showed in how trim Ward, who's listed at 6-feet and 205 pounds, looked by the end of "DWTS."

"He told me he lost about 18 pounds because it's a different kind of workout than he did before," former Steelers great Lynn Swann said Monday night. "Ask him how much weight he's lost dancing."

Hines?

"Fifteen pounds," Ward said.

Ward said he's probably ahead of where he normally is at this point in the offseason.

"I usually don't do anything until June," said Ward, who has two years left on his contract. "I'm ready."

Ward said he will look into getting his teammates together for informal practices next month, assuming the NFL lockout is in place. But for now, he's taking a couple of victory laps, so to speak, having appeared on "Good Morning America" yesterday and "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" on Tuesday.

He became the second NFL player to win "DWTS," and football appeared to be the furthest thing from his mind. But when asked if he might unveil a new touchdown dance given what he had just accomplished, Ward didn't hesitate to answer.

"I'm doing a tribute to Kym every time I score a touchdown," Ward said, "a 'Dancing With the Stars' routine somewhere in the end zone."

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