“A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” Christopher Reeve
When I was a child living in Illinois, my older brother, Peter, and I always eagerly awaited Saturday mornings. We’d be up at 6am, while it was still dark outside, and race in our “footie” pajamas to the family room. Our baby brother, Ted, would be in his crib and the rest of the house silent. I’d climb under a blanket on our comfy couch while Peter would adjust the antennae attached to the TV and shift the knob to find the morning’s cartoon line up. With only four channels to choose from back in the 20th century, it wasn’t hard to find our favorite show “The Super Friends.”
Based on the “Justice League of America” and associated comic book characters, Peter and I were mesmerized by episode after episode of animated shorts featuring our preferred heroes. Not surprisingly, mine was “Wonder Woman” and Peter’s was “Superman.” Each episode began with heroes responding to an emergency (think natural disaster or aliens) and the Super Friends would come to the rescue. This experience represented my first introduction to the concept of a hero.
This past weekend John, the kids and I watched the Giants v Patriots Superbowl game with many friends. Coming from the New York area, the majority of boys (and some dads) were decked out in Giants attire. Ethan proudly sported his own blue and white “Manning” jersey. I noted that he clearly regarded Eli Manning, who was named Most Valuable Player, as a hero.
What qualifies someone to be considered a hero? Beyond a six-year-old’s love for Batman, Wonder Woman or Aquaman, and winning the Superbowl, how can we identify the heroes among us? Webster’s dictionary defines a hero as:
(i) “A mythological figure or warrior endowed with great strength or ability.” Super Friends clearly are covered;
(ii) a man admired for his achievements and noble qualities. Manning is clearly covered.
But fortunately, given the impractical aspect of becoming a mythological figure and the remote possibility of becoming MVP of a Superbowl, Webster’s came through with one final alternative:
(iii) One that shows great courage.
Last week I came across a family that “liked” my “Don’t Hide It, Flaunt It” page on Facebook. Zach Hamm was born in Texas in 2003 with a condition known as ectodermal dysplasia. As a result of his condition, Zach was born with one toe on his right foot, two on his left, in addition to some other finger, rib, teeth and sweat gland abnormalities. Despite his condition and having had to undergo multiple corrective surgeries, as described on his own site(www.dontsweatitgolf.com), Zach is an excellent student and loves to play baseball and golf. In fact, Zach has played in over 30 golf tournaments winning 8 times. He’s an amazing kid in his own right and proves it again and again with an annual golf event he initiated: the “Don’t Sweat It Gold Classic” to help other kids affected by his condition. At the bottom of the Zach’s website, he lists his own heroes. They included everyone from his Dad, to athletes and his doctors. One thing that caught my attention was that beneath the list of Zach’s heroes, it states, “These are all people that I know and respect.”
There is no doubt that Zach meets the true definition of a hero, and in my opinion, can give even the greatest sports greats a run for their money. But Zach’s site got me thinking. While it is fun and fine for Ethan, Charlie and Savanna to have heroes they have never met and only admire based on ability or accomplishment, it is important for them to acknowledge people who not only are brave and courageous, but are also people that they actually know.
As for me, who are my own personal heroes? I definitely have a cherished list of people I have known personally and admired from afar. But the first ones who will always come to my mind are two in particular who have stood by my side despite the years of stares and judgment directed at their sister–the little boy running down the stairs in his PJ’s to watch the Super Friends and the other little boy who slept in his crib.