November 2007 Column Winner

A real hero

By Mike Tupa, Bartlesville Examiner-Enterprise

Sometimes heroes have nothing to do with winning or losing.

Of course, that depends on how one defines victory.

I was saddened to read about the passing last Tuesday of John Woodruff.

Unfortunately, I never really knew about this remarkable man until he died.
Woodruff lived to be 92 years old.

In 1936, back when he was in his early 20s, Woodruff joined Olympic legend Jesse Owens in helping to enlighten the world about the abhorrent philosophy of racism.

Woodruff and Owens were among the black Americans who competed in the '36 Olympics in Berlin, Germany.

Hitler had just come to power in Germany four years earlier, but his poisoned viewpoint of white supremacy already had infected the minds of millions in his country and throughout the world.

Owens and Woodruff both won gold medals at the Olympics - Hitler's Olympics - to help debunk his assertion of Aryan superiority.

Owens died many, many years ago, but Woodruff survived as a living testament to the human spirit and its ability to shine even in the murky darkness of bigotry.

I also am thinking of another hero, one none of you would know.

My sister Pam underwent major surgery this week for the removal of cancer.

It is the second time in nine years she has endured this challenge and adversity.

On each occasion, she faced her ordeal with courage, realism and optimism.

It's easy to be hopeful and generous with positive thoughts when things are going well or a dark time has passed.

But, it's far more enlightening and indicative of a person's character to see how they face these kinds of tests, which will impact them the rest of their lives.

In her case, there was no sobbing to others or to me, even though she comforted and supported and cared for our mother through nine months of terminal cancer.

Pam's major desire was just to get this over with.

She has chosen to look at it as just an incident of life rather than a tragedy.

Heroes aren't judged by the size of their muscles, how fast they can run the 40 or by their stat sheet.

It is how they deal with problems - real problems and shortcomings and weaknesses and setbacks and disappointments - which determine the kind of stuff of which they're really made.

The sunlight of achievement can warm our ego, but it's how we hold our head and heart through the gloom of lonely despair which is what makes looking in the mirror a pleasure or a burden.

Heroes don't have to do great things.

They just have to keep on doing the same good things no matter the reward - or lack of reward.

I've been fortunate to know, or to study about, many great heroes in my life.

I've been acquainted with some in sports and some from other kinds of experiences.

Those who can follow a worthwhile dream even when bloodying their elbows on the rocky mountain of adversity, enjoy the view from the top and along the way, the most.