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The soul of an American hero

Hero; he-ro (noun) 1. A remarkably brave person 2. Somebody who is greatly admired

These are the literal meanings of the sometimes too flippantly used word, hero. Although it’s simple to look between heart and hurt in the dictionary and have Webster’s tell you its “definition” of the term, I think we can all agree that a label with such implications takes much more than four words to aptly capture its essence. Truly, what is a hero? Is it an individual who does a brave thing? Is it someone who sacrifices for the sake of others? Or maybe it’s a person that relentlessly strives for excellence in a wholeheartedly selfless manor.

I suppose there really is no succinct, concise meaning for the term “hero.” Heroes can exist across a wide array of facets and a broad spectrum of mediums. The three descriptions I’ve laid out above are a nice start in conjunction with the short dictionary explanation. To properly embody all that encompasses the term “hero,” however, would take much more time than I have to suitably capture its spirit or you have to sit there and read it.

Or would it? Maybe much research, conversation and soul searching could be avoided in our effort to confidently define this word by engaging in one simple task. Go over to your TV and turn it on. Over the past three weeks the simple act of hitting the power button on the remote control would quickly give you all the education and insight one would need to fully comprehend the term “hero.”

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. I am being a bit flippant. In addition you would also have to make sure your television was tuned in to any of the many various competitions engaged in by our heroic American Olympians.

For more than a decade I was a professional athlete, and can speak from experience about the enormity of the sacrifice, level of dedication and depth of the resilience it takes for one to reach the status of world-class athlete. To grasp the pinnacle of any endeavor a special level of character must exist. A clear concise plan of achievement must be created, and that plan must be obsessively adhered to until the goal is a reality. Whether the peak be that of professional athletics, CEO of a corporation or having “Dr.” in front of one’s name, the road map to success is generally the same.

John Rocker’s inspiring story of the grit and glory of becoming a Major League Baseball pitcher – and then getting tried by the PC Police: “Rocker: Scars and Strikes”

But why do we, the non-Olympians, strive for the goals we seek to accomplish? Is it for personal gratification? Many times. Is it for financial purposes? Most times. Are we generally driven by some greater self-centered motive? Absolutely.

It is neither the goals reached nor the level of achievement grasped that makes the American Olympian and all Olympians, for that matter, modern-day heroes. It is their motives for success that make them the incredible people each and every one of them are. Ninety-nine percent of our Olympic heroes will never grace the front of a Wheaties box or have their own Subway commercial, and almost as many will never be able to make a living in the respective sports. Yet while possessing the knowledge that fame and fortune will never be the byproduct of days and weeks, months and years of blood, sweat and tears, these heroic men and women stubbornly push that metaphorical boulder up the mountain toward Olympic glory.

But why? I know precisely what it takes to reach that level of physical competition and desired achievement. It is not a pleasant journey. There are no holidays. There are no vacations. There is an extremely scarce amount of off days – and there is basically no other formula. So why do Olympic athletes sacrifice their lives as they do? They do it for us, for you and me.

They do it for good ol’ fashion national pride and love of country. The Olympics is the purest form of competition we have in this world, and it is the purity of the athletes who compete and their motives for competition that make it so. They compete for the once-in-a-million-lifetimes opportunity to stand in front of the world, have Old Glory raised, hear “The Star Spangled Banner” play and know that American pride just got a well-deserved shot in the arm.

At that moment, those three minutes of life suddenly make all the lonely exhausting years worth it. And at the end of the day it was all basically for us. I don’t know about you, but in my book, that kind of selfless sacrifice is tops on the long and varied list of heroic definitions.

Quote of the week: “A government which robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul.”

– George Bernard Shaw