Recently I was asked who my heroes are and why. After thinking about it for a while, I concluded that a hero, to me, isn't necessarily a particularly well-known person admired by many. Rather, I am inspired by everyday people who hold certain hero-like qualities. These are people who are brave, tireless and committed to living the best life that they can: People who find their lives' passion and never, ever give up on their dreams until they succeed. These are the attributes that I admire most in people. And in the cystic fibrosis community, we have no shortage of people whom I would consider to be heroes.
As a former pole vaulter, I liken my view of how someone becomes hero-like to how someone prepares for a pole jump. While the act may appear simple, it requires countless hours of weight training, running, gymnastics and focus. As the bar is raised higher and higher, a pole vaulter can't quit or feel less determined with an unsuccessful jump. It's about getting up from the mat, shifting focus and preparing yourself to make the higher jump next time. I find that heroes are similar. There's so much more to them than what the eye sees.
Growing up, I never let CF dictate my life and that was very much because of the mental and physical foundation I had built with the help of some of my heroes along the way. I can emphatically say that my parents, who laid the groundwork for this foundation, were a huge influence in my life. I was a kid from Brooklyn, one of six, so I wasn't coddled every time I fell down. Instead, I was told to get back up and reset the compass if needed. My parents were also the ones who embedded the “you cannot fail” mantra into my head. Whether I was going to live one 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.
In high school, I met Al Berardi, who became my pole vaulting coach, mentor and one of the first hero-like people that I had encountered outside of my family. He knew that I possessed the skills to be a great pole vaulter, but I wasn't there yet. He taught me that with hard work, focus and dedication, I could become the best. He was relentless in spirit and conviction and someone that I very much admired.
In my forties, during a chance meeting with former NFL MVP Boomer Esiason, whose son has cystic fibrosis, I found someone as equally passionate about life and finding a cure for CF as I am. Inspired by Boomer's infectious and upbeat “can-do” attitude, I started volunteering for his Foundation 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.
While there isn't enough room here to name them all, there are two stand-out individuals who have inspired me to strive for the extraordinary in the ordinary of everyday life: Emily Schaller and my friend Kay, who I like to call a “quiet hero.” Both of these women have shown a commitment to bettering themselves so that they can live their best lives every day.
Through Emily's humor and relentlessness, she inspires me, and many others, to transform their lives through exercise, diet and goal setting. And Kay, while compliant with her treatments, pushes the envelope and tries things that she believes will work well for her body. I'm constantly inspired by her “I won't give up” hero-like attitude, and her refusal to allow CF to define her life.
Again, there are many more people who I admire and who inspire me in my everyday life, many of whom may consider themselves to be “average,” but I think they're far from it. For me, being a hero is about being relentless, a fighter and never giving up. I feel so fortunate for having crossed paths with so many of these heroes, and I very much look forward to meeting many more in this journey that I call life.
Who are your heroes?