We all have people we look up to in this life and these idols will most likely change throughout the years. I believe they change as the needs in our life evolve. I also believe they’re all around us and closer than we think.
When we’re young, our parents are usually our biggest idols. They are the only way we’re able to survive. They provide food, clothing, shelter, love, safety — anything we could possibly need.
As we get a bit older and think we are more self-sustainable, our heroes change. We start looking to the world around us. We start idolizing the actors in our favorite movies, we begin emulating sports athletes, doctors, firefighters, ballerinas, pop stars — we look outside of our immediate world for our heroes.
For many, as they continue to mature, these idols may change as the seasons do — as people come in and out of social popularity. There’s a constant fluctuation of interests which lead to new idolizations. Still, we are looking outside of our immediate world for someone to motivate us to be better. At least that’s how it happened for me until I began looking a little closer to home.
For me, realizing the true heroes in my life was easier once I began to question what was truly important in life. When we begin to understand what is truly important, it narrows our focus back to our present world. Identifying what is important to you is the first step in finding a hero.
In my world, I began to truly understand the importance of human connection with the people close to me. If we’re lucky, there are many people in our lives that are glad to be a part of it. If we’re very lucky, these people want to make our lives better. If we’re Vegas lucky, the people closest to us push us, drive us, grow us — into better versions of ourselves. These are the heroes we deserve and they probably aren’t wearing any capes (unless it’s National Cape Day).
As it turns out, I’m the Vegas kind of lucky. I’m constantly reminded of this by the actions and words of the people closest to me. From my friends to my family to the people of the city I live in, there are heroes living their daily lives the way we all should strive to. They’re helping others, they’re driven to achieve their goals, they’re giving back instead of taking more. Their stories give me guidance to be better and their stories are worth sharing.
For anyone who knows me, you’re very aware my partner, Alyssa, recently completed the San Francisco marathon. Some of you may not know that this wasn’t the first marathon she planned on running.
Last year, for her birthday, Alyssa was scheduled to run the Napa Valley Marathon with one of our close friends. She trained and she trained; she was determined to accomplish this goal, no matter what. She was doing great, she was putting in the work, she felt great, she not only thought she could finish it — she knew it.
As much as you can train and plan and work hard toward your goals, you can’t control everything. After what was supposed to be a quick and easy run, she realized something was very wrong with her leg. With high hopes it was just a muscle strain, she went in for an appointment to get it checked out.
It can be a suffocating moment when you’re told you won’t be able to finish a goal you’ve put so much work into. There’s a helplessness we both felt when we found out she had fractured her tibia and torn her miniscus in more than one place. Not only was she not going to run any marathons, she wasn’t going to be walking — period — for a month.
We wanted a second opinion, we wanted a glimmer of hope she’d get better in time for the race, we were looking for any straw we could grasp that would tell us she was going to run the marathon. It didn’t happen.
It was too late to cancel the trip. Flights were paid for, Air BnB booked, celebratory wine tours were scheduled — we were going to the marathon, whether she was running it or not.
As we celebrated and congratulated our friend as they crossed the finish line, it was a strange mixture of emotions. As happy as we were for her, there was a sense of jealously. There was a touch of sadness overrun with extreme proudness for our friend’s accomplishment. And there was an undeniable understanding that the next time we were near a finish line like this, it was going to be because we were celebrating Alyssa as she crossed.
Fast forward to a few days ago
As I sat in the bed of our hostel — playing on my phone and thinking about the things of the day — I checked on Alyssa’s marathon progress. She was doing well and was making great time.
I made my way down to the kitchen for some breakfast, since I had pretty much depleted my phone’s battery and needed some fuel, myself. I made myself some pancakes and had some coffee and a banana to round out my breakfast.
I had already calculated pretty much exactly what time I would need to head down to the finish line to congratulate Alyssa across the finish line. I had a few hours but I badly needed to charge my phone. Luckily, the receptionist of the hostel was happy to oblige, with a charger.
As my phone was charging, I grabbed a quick shower and got ready for the day. I struck up conversation with our bunk mates for a while. They were a couple guys from Germany who were doing a couple week road trip down through Southern California and Vegas. We talked about our jobs and our upcoming trips, the usual small talk you hear in a hostel.
Eventually, I checked my phone to see how much it had charged and to check to see how Alyssa was doing. We had already discussed the course so I knew she’d most likely be getting towards the tougher part of it. As expected, her time had slowed but maybe a little more than I thought it would have. In the back of my mind, I could hear her explaining how she was going to make up for lost time on the downhill side of the track. For now, all was well and I began to figure out the best path to the finish line.
As I made my way down to the finish line, the city was alive with marathoners, half-marathoners, and 5Kers proudly making their way through the streets. I found myself checking the backs of their shirts to see exactly which race they had run. I soon realized I didn’t need to check the backs of their shirts. The ones who had done the full marathon had a different look than the rest — much more exhausted and somber but most definitely accomplished.
As I got closer and closer, the energy of the day pulsed stronger and stronger. The steady beat of the music, the cacophony of constant human conversation, and the steady stream of names being announced as they passed the only line that mattered for any of them — it all set the stage for one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever witnessed.
I checked my phone to see where Alyssa was; she should’ve been crossing the finish line pretty soon. When I checked, I had to do a double take. I looked at her mile times and then checked the map to see her location and then back to her times. Something was wrong.
She was very far behind the pace she had expected to finish at. She should have been maybe a mile from the finish line but she was back at mile 22. I thought for sure the app had tracked her wrong — I thought it hadn’t updated. There was no way it was showing me her location accurately. I closed the app and opened it again, thinking it would fix the problem. It opened back up to the same numbers. On the map, I could see she had moved slightly. How could this be right?
As all of the terrible possibilities reared their ugly heads in my mind, my heart dropped and I knew I had to get to her. So, I started making my way, backwards, through the course.
Our fight or flight response produces some amazing abilities. As I sped walked, I analyzed every face that passed me. Part of me hoped the marathon app had been wrong all along and the other part of me was enveloped with the emotions of the people around me. There was pain, there was fear, there was frustration, joy, exhaustion, determination. Everyone’s individualized story being told on their face while the people around them wanted nothing more than to support the runners’ quest to cross the finish line. The camaraderie of the entire crowd mixed with all the emotions of the runners was overwhelming. I could feel tears welling as I continued my search for her — not of sadness or fear but of joy and pride for the random strangers surrounding me.
Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something bad had happened to her. Even as I cheered for the runners as they passed, a part of me was entirely focused on Alyssa and what she must be going through, mentally and physically.
It was now close to 45 minutes after she had planned on finishing and I still hadn’t found her. I kept walking and looking — and worrying. I was worried for what thoughts could be going through her head, I was worried she had injured herself, I was worried she had given up, I was worried she’d passed me and I hadn’t seen her, I was worried she would again be unable to complete this monstrosity of a goal. Finally, I saw her.
Not only was she ok, she was smiling. She didn’t have any signs of despair on her face, only pure dedication. She was obviously tired and sore and “over it” but there was no sign of quitting. She knew she wasn’t going to meet the goal she had set for herself and it didn’t do anything but fuel her to find a new goal — to finish.
I was relieved and I had so many questions and I definitely hadn’t planned on running (which explains why I had on flip flops…) but the only thing there was to do was to run with her. I wanted to be there to help her through the last mile and a half, any way I could.
We began to talk about the race. I had expected to hear sorrow for not finishing at the pace she wanted but it didn’t happen. We talked about how awfully cold, windy, and foggy the bridge was. We talked about how much wine she was going to drink after she finished. We talked about all the food we were going to eat. We talked about how much she had underestimated how difficult this race was going to be. We talked about the companions she met along the way and how they had helped her get through the race. We talked about the general positivity everyone was exuding throughout the day.
“Si se puede” was the mantra she and a fellow runner had adopted at a point in the race that had been especially hard for her. Around mile 18, her thighs cramped up and almost brought her to the ground. Out of nowhere, a stranger’s hands were around her to keep up, accompanied with these motivational words to keep her going. Si se puede! They ran together for a few more miles, reminding each they were going to finish the race.
As she was telling me about the experience, another runner beside us began to grab his legs in pain and almost stumbled to the ground. It was her time to be the motivating voice. We found out the man’s name was Omar. As exhausted as Alyssa was, she took on the job of motivating him to finish. Si se puede.
The last leg of the race was a blend of exhaustion and exhilaration, blurring and blending into a surreal realization that she, Omar, the man who pushed her when she needed it, and everyone around her had just accomplished something huge — something worth celebrating.
There were multiple heroes that day; many of them will never be known for what they did. Each and every person who encountered another runner that day and pushed them to finish deserves thanks. Omar was a hero to the people in his life who look up to him for his accomplishment. Alyssa was a hero to Omar and numerous other runners; motivating them to finish. The man who helped Alyssa when she needed it most was a hero who wanted no thanks for his part in her success. These are the heroes I had the pleasure of meeting and sharing some brief experiences with but I assure you they were not the only heroes that day.
As my life evolves and I evolve with it, so have my heroes. Capes have disappeared and their superpowers have changed. Being able to fly, hit the most home runs, have super-strength — have been replaced with superpowers of kindness, generosity, motivation, and determination. I see the heroes all around me; they are the ones who take the time to help others, the ones who push us to be better than we are, the ones who see our potential and show us our worth.
We are all capable of being heroes and I challenge you to look a little closer to home and find them in your everyday life. I also challenge you to find the ways you can be a hero in the lives of the people around you. If we all take more time to be better than we are today or find some time to help the people around us, we are capable of great things. If you were given the chance to be a hero, could you do it? Si se puede.
A version of this post was previously published on GoFindYourHappy and is republished here with permission from author.
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