Sunday, February 2, 2014

Three amazing people you've probably never heard of

Today, Super Bowl Sunday, our media's talking heads will polish up and show off sports figures, all of whom pull down 6- and 7-figure salaries. They'll be touted a strong, heroic types to be admired and emulated. But aside from providing entertainment and the thrill of the moment, I know nothing about whether or not these folks are true heroes.

So I thought today was a good day to introduce you to a few people who truly made a difference in their world. These are real people I've read about, not in the tabloids, not splashed across the evening news, but in small footnotes in a worn book or those plexiglass-covered placards at nondescript museum displays.

 - Irena Sendler (1910-2008) Irena was a Polish nurse who worked with the Underground during World War II. In the German-occupied Warsaw ghetto, she enlisted the help of two dozen other people to create false identity papers and smuggle 2500 Jewish children to locations outside the ghetto walls. She kept a list of the children's names and where they'd gone buried in a jar in her backyard in the hopes of reuniting children and parents.
In the late 1990's, a group of Kansas students stumbled across her story. When they learned that she was still alive, they connected with her and decided to spread her story.

 - Ida Lewis (1842-1911) As the daughter of the keeper of Lime Rock (RI) Lighthouse, Ida became a strong swimmer and oarsman at an early age. In addition to taking on the duties of keeper as her parents' health failed, Ida was frequently called on to perform rescues. Her first was at 17-years-old, when she single-handedly pulled four young men from the frigid water alongside their capsized sailboat. Over her lifetime as keeper, she saved 18 people from drowning.

 - Mary Anning (1799-1847) While fossil hunting on the Lyme Regis cliffs as a twelve-year-old, Mary made an astounding discovery - the first dinosaur skeleton, an ichthyosaur. Until then, animal extinction was thought to be impossible, and this finding turned the scientific community upside down. She was too young and too poor to be considered part in the upheaval, so she sought to give herself the credentials she needed to be taken seriously. She worked her way though school and became a paleontologist at a time when very few women went to college, never mind on digs. Her findings and her work started a fundamental shift in scientific thinking about prehistoric life.

None of these people saved the world or made a fortune. Their names may be lost to history. But each of them did what they could with their gifts and their passions. They didn't rest in comfort and assume someone else would do something. And our lives are richer for it.
Can the same be said of today's sport figures?

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