While reporting on the Above and Beyond initiative, which honors individuals who put service over self, I started thinking about the incredible individuals in our own lives. We are surrounded by heroes every day, whether it’s the social worker in the inner city or the mother who wakes up and makes sandwiches for the local homeless shelter or the coach who keeps a kid on the right path. These people should be celebrated, not because they seek the recognition, but because the rest of us need their example to be inspired.
There are hundreds of heroes who have touched my life. Some are family members who have been with me for years, some are people I’ve met through my professional career, and some I’ve met just briefly, but they continue to affect me in a positive way.
These are just a few of my heroes:
My mom raised two boys all on her own. She worked two jobs during the week and another on the weekend, but she never missed one of our games or events. She sacrificed her own needs so we would never want for anything. My mom is my example of how to preserve and come through struggle, as well as how to be nurturing and caring to the people I love.
Steve Spangler was my high school football coach, and even though he no longer leads the team — he’s the Cave Spring High School principal now — I still call him “coach.” At a time when I was impressionable and vulnerable to negative peer pressure, Coach Spangler was a father figure and a motivator who pushed me to be the best at anything I tried, whether on the field or in the classroom. Our high school football team wasn’t very good (we never won more than five or six games), but Coach taught me to pursue excellence despite the circumstances, and that’s a lesson I carried with me all the way through my professional football career. I can’t express just how important men like Coach Spangler are to those of us who grow up without fathers.
Capt. Rob Wolfe
I met Wolfe two years ago at the Pro Bowl in Hawaii. He was playing bocce ball at the hotel we were staying in, and asked if I would join him for a beer and come run PT with his troops in the morning. I did, and through this chance encounter, the war in Iraq became personalized for me. Oftentimes we’re so disconnected from the pictures of the war we see on TV, but when you have a relationship with someone out there fighting, you have a personal connection to the violence. I’ve gotten to know Wolfe and the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry, who have served in both Afghanistan and Iraq. These young men who make enormous personal sacrifice by willingly serving our country are true heroes.
Detective Ken Cardona
Ken Cardona, and many of his colleagues whom I’ve met as a member of the Federal Law Enforcement Association, constantly put themselves at personal risk to make New York City safer. But during 9/11, I witnessed a new level of heroics. During one of the darkest times in this city’s history, they threw their hearts into saving others, often to the detriment of themselves. Many are now gravely ill as a result of the hours they put in at ground zero.
When I was invited by Shimon Peres and the Peres Center for Peace to visit Israel in 2005, Aaron Kaplowitz covered our trip for the “Jerusalem Post.” He was a young freelance writer from New Jersey just trying to break into journalism. But after witnessing Israel struggle through disengagement from the Palestinian occupied territories and the fighting that ensued, Aaron decided to become an Israeli citizen and join the army. He could have lived an easy life in suburban New Jersey, but he chose to follow his beliefs down a much more difficult path.
I’d love to hear about the everyday heroes in your life. Post your stories here.
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