According to Miriam Webster dictionary, the simple definition of a hero is “a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities; and a person who is greatly admired.” This definition doesn’t mention anything about being famous or in the limelight, and so many times, when people think about heroes, they think of these types of people. On the other end of the spectrum, Christopher Reeve, an American actor and ambassador in search for a cure for paralysis defined a hero as “an individual who finds strength to perseveres and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.”
Recently I was asked about who my heroes are and why. I thought about it for a while and what I concluded was that a hero to me isn’t really any one person at all, but it’s more about a combination of people who hold certain hero-like qualities – much like the two definitions I just mentioned. These people are brave, tireless and relentless, committed, are teachers and they never, ever give up until they succeed. And, I, like others in their lives, admire them for those attributes.
As a former pole vaulter, I liken my view of how someone becomes hero-like o how someone prepares for a jump. The end result seems simple – a person runs with a pole, hurdles themselves over a bar and lands on a mat. However, in order to successfully execute this quick jump, there are many hours of weight training, running, gymnastics and focus. Resilience is also a key characteristic in a pole vaulter’s practice. As the bar climbs higher and higher with every jump, a pole vaulter can’t quit or feel less determined with an unsuccessful jump. It’s about getting up from the mat and shifting focus and preparation to make the higher jump next time. Heroes are similar – they have the ability to shine with what seem like simple acts, but there’s so much more than what the eye sees.
I can emphatically say that my understanding of what hero-like qualities were started with my family, in particular my mom and dad. I think life is part nature and part nurture and I believe that the way my parents nurtured me with their approached to my CF diagnosis laid the ground work for the way I’ve lived my life. And, to set the record straight, even if I didn’t have CF, the approach would be the same. I was a kid from Brooklyn and one of six kids, so I wasn’t coddled and every time I fell down, Instead, I was encouraged to get back up and re-set the compass if needed. My parents were also the ones who imbedded the “You cannot fail” mantra into my head. Whether I was going to live 1 or 100 years, my parents led by example and showed me how to be relentless and resilient in all situations. Solutions replaced complaints and this hero-like approach helped me to take on the world.
Starting in high school, I encountered one of my first hero-like people outside of my family, my coach Al Berardi. He knew that I possessed skills to be a pole vaulter, but I wasn’t the best. However, he taught me that with hard work, focus and dedication, I could become the best. He was relentless in spirt and conviction and someone I very much admired. He believed in me, but first he believed in himself.
I spent the next thirty or so years after high school getting a college degree and working in sales for a large apparel company based in New York City. I never let CF dictate my life at work and that was very much because of the mental and physical foundation I had built with the help of some my heroes along the way. This helped me tremendously when after many years of working and climbing the corporate ladder I had to turn down a big promotion to go on disability as I waited for a new set of lungs. There wasn’t a “poor me” mentality at all, instead a very resilient, “time to change direction” approach.
For the very first time in my life, I shifted my focus to the cystic fibrosis community and I had a chance meeting at a CF event with Boomer Esiason, a former NFL MVP, whose son has cystic fibrosis. He too possessed relentless characteristics and a commitment to finding a cure for CF, and I started volunteering for him shortly after we met. Suddenly, I went from not sharing my diagnosis with anyone, to sharing it with everyone. This paved the way for me to meet many hero-like people within the CF community. There isn’t enough room in this posting to name them all, but there are two that stand out to me that have taught me how to strive for extraordinary in the ordinary of everyday life: Emily Schaller and my friend Kay. Both of these women have showed a commitment to their health so that they can live their best lives every day.
Emily a committed sister, daughter and aunt seeks excellence in all she does. Currently she manages an internationally acclaimed line of merchandise she created to help fulfill the mission of her non-profit Rock CF. Through Emily’s humor, personal experience and relentlessness she continues to inspire the masses to transform their lives with exercise, diet and goal setting.
Kay “a quiet hero” is an extremely talented and successful graphic artist, and juggles this with her health and sports and her beautiful daughter. While she is compliant with her treatments and listens to her doctors, she also pushes the envelope and tests things that she believes will work well for her body. This is a part of her “I won’t give up” hero-like attitude. She does not allow CF to define her life.
Again, there are many, many more people who I believe possess hero-like qualities that I admire and inspire me in my everyday life – there are just too many to mention. But, I am fortunate man for having crossed paths with them; and I very much look forward to meeting many more in this journey I call life.
Quote: “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Laozi