My Heroes

Throughout my life I have been profoundly affected by many people - family, friends, teachers, co-workers, strangers on the street. It's amazing to me how many people have affected one life. There are literally thousands of influences that each of us has through our years. Yet there are always a choice few of these influences that rise to the top of the list. These are people that are heroes and role models.

I have two heroes, and unlike some people, I've been very fortunate to have met them both.

If you've ever heard me talk about my grandfather than it's probably obvious that he is one of my heroes. My grandpa, "Doc" (as he was known to just about everyone because every badass has a cool nickname), faced a lot of obstacles in life, yet in the end he overcame them all. The story is long, but worth hearing.

Grandpa was a semi-professional athlete back in the day, he set high school track records, played on a pro softball team, and played semi-pro football for the Quad City Mohawks. None of those skills got passed to me, ironically. Anyway, in 1954 he and my grandma were traveling with the football team in Missouri and he got bit by a mosquito carrying encephalitis. The fever that he contracted was so high that it severed the nerves in his spinal cord from the chest down and he never played football or walked again.

It would have been easy for him to use his disability as an excuse, but instead he choose to devote his life to serving others. My grandpa worked for years to start Winning Wheels, a place where young people who are in wheelchairs can go to rehabilitate and return to normal living. It's truly an amazing place. He spent the last 50 years of his life making a difference in the lives of others. He had a purpose and he followed it to the day he died. At his funeral so many people that I had never even met came up to me and told me how much my grandpa had meant to them, that he had changed their life. If I could do what my grandpa did for only one person, I would consider my life wildly successful. He taught me that serving others is far more important that serving yourself.

My other hero is a less obvious pick, but no less of an influence in the way I live my life. My little brother, Greg, is a great kid and my hero. I spent the first 18 years of my life beating on his ass, and the last 6 years figuring out why I did.

This one is harder to explain, mostly because my relationship with him is constantly changing as we both grow older. There are two things, though, that my brother has taught me - determination and perseverance.

My brother is a good athlete (must be where grandpa's genes went) and played football at Moline High School for four years. Every year he attacked the weight room in the off-season and went to the optional practices. He'd gain weight if he was told to and he'd lose it if he needed to. He lived, breathed, ate, and slept Maroon football during the season. He worked his ass off, yet in those four years, he probably saw five minutes of varsity time in a game.

I still can't figure that one out, and I know that I would have quit the team sometime during my junior year. However, Greg didn't. He's too dedicated and determined to quit. I'm sure he got frustrated that he wasn't getting playing time despite the amount of work that he put into it, but to him, it was bigger than that. He taught me that playing on a team is about more than how much time you get to spend on the line. He taught me that in life, it's not about me...