This past weekend I had the opportunity of meeting Erik Weihenmayer: climber, writer, speaker, and all around inspiration. The remarkable thing about Erik is that he is able to achieve his dreams despite being physically blind. Amazingly enough, he climbed all seven summits in the world–the seven highest peaks on the globe–without physical sight. I say “physical sight” because what Mr. Weihenmayer lacks in physical ability, he makes up for with insight, heart, and determination.
To me, it isn’t just his physical accomplishments that touch and inspire me. It is his spirit. He exudes passion and joy for life in everything he does.
It amazes me how people can put themselves out there and can show who they are without fear and trepidation. They know who they are and what they love, and they simply go for it.
It is this attitude and joy that I aspire to, and for me, there are a few people who I see as heroes–people I want to emulate–not imitate–but those who inspire me to wear my heart on my sleeve and let the world see my spirit regardless of criticism or judgement.
Erik Weihenmayer has now joined the ranks of those I call heroes.
Another recent acquisition in my hero count is Cyrus Spencer, a dancer on the reality competition show So You Think You Can Dance. This show is one of my guilty pleasures, but every week I love watching these young people reaching for their dreams. Cyrus lacks formal dance training, but still, every week he reaches to be more than his training. He listens to the choreographers and judges and soaks it all in. He throws his body in the air with joy and love for dance. Every week, his light shines, and every week my heart soars with him. I want him to succeed because I can feel his spirit–his soul–that he doesn’t keep hidden.
My longest standing hero, however, has these same qualities, but he’s a bit more complicated. He holds himself with quiet determination and an inner strength. It is this inner strength that touches me. I can see it in his famous face, the words in his book, and even in his short tweets. I saw it the first time I met him on the TV screen wearing that yellow jersey.
It came at a time when I was facing my own uncertainties and challenges–I wasn’t sure I would be able to accomplish my goals, but seeing him beat the odds of a cancer diagnosis and do what no one had done before him was enough to keep me going. That was in 2001, and even after that, Lance Armstrong went on to win 4 more Tour de France titles.
For me, it wasn’t the fact that he won his races; it wasn’t even the fact that he survived cancer despite a 40% chance of survival. What clenched his hero status for me was the fact that he gave himself to others. A fellow racer crashed…Lance stopped and helped him up. He crashed himself and stumbled while trying to catch up with the other racers. After catching up with the waiting group, he even took the risk of shaking hands with fellow racer Jan Ullrich as a show of gratitude and respect. And beyond his racing, he gives of himself to those fighting and surviving cancer through Livestrong.org. Even now, after everyone around him tries to strip him of his dignity, he rises above them.
Some heroes fall, and some people would see this past week as Lance Armstrong’s fall from grace, but I see it differently. As he wrote in his biography, “it’s not about the bike”; it’s about doing what you love and giving it everything you have despite the naysayers and despite the fear you might face–it’s about living and giving back to those who helped you. I do not see his decision to stop fighting the USADA as giving up, but I see him as living his life on his own terms…as defying once again what tries to tear him down.
Did he use performance-enhancing drugs? That’s not for me to say. But what I can say is that he gives of himself every day to make someone’s life a little better–and for me, that is enough. For me, that is what makes Lance, Cyrus, and Erik my heroes.