When I was in younger, many kids wanted to, "Be like Mike."
The Mike they are referring to is Michael Jordan. And in 1992, Gatorade publicized it as a commercial. The jingle was catchy, and everyone knew exactly who you were talking about if you said, "be like Mike."
I can honestly say, I was not a Michael Jordan fan. I was a Detroit Pistons fan, and the "Bad Boys" of Detroit were direct competitors of Jordan and his Chicago Bulls. But, I recognize that Michael Jordan was one of the best, if not the best, basketball player ever.
I can also honestly say, I never wanted to be like Mike.
I want to be like Chris.
A couple of weeks ago, a 21 year old with Down's Syndrome toed the line at Ironman Florida. One of the few events to take place during 2020, Chris Nikic and his coach and guide, Dan Grieb started on their 140.6 mile journey. Chris had until midnight, or 17 hours, to complete his Ironman.
He finished in 16:46:09.
He trained for over a year to get to the starting line.
For most of his life, people had told him and his folks all the things he wouldn't be able to do. He had multiple surgeries over his life, but that didn't stop him. He overcame overwhelming odds. He achieved his dream!
But more than that, Chris challenges us to be "1% Better". He wants us to do something everyday that makes us a better person. It's about not only making ourselves better, but helping others as well. (see Chris' website for information about the challenge.)
That's why I want to be like Chris.
I also admire The Pease Brothers.
Kyle Pease was born with cerebral palsy with spastic quadriplegia. That never stopped him, or his family, from striving to be his best. He would support his siblings in their athletic endeavors, being their biggest cheerleader, and they would do their best to take him along on their family adventures, pushing his wheelchair through National Parks and other activities.
After watching his brother Brent finish an Ironman, Kyle asked the question, "Can people in wheelchairs do Ironman?" Absolutely. After researching others wheelchair athletes, and a lot of hard work, Brent and Kyle finished their own Ironman. In fact they've finished 4, including the Big One...Kona!
They also started the Kyle Pease Foundation, whose mission is to, "Improve the lives of people with disabilities through sports." They give those with disabilities the opportunity to participate in various races, including marathons and even an Ironman. They help connect athletes with equipment and support staff. It is so cool.
Which leads me to the Hoyts. A father and son team who are also inspirations!
Rick Hoyt was diagnosed with cerebral palsy shortly after birth due to the umbilical cord becoming twisted around his neck, and blocking blood flow to the brain. After several years, it became apparent, that even though Rick couldn't properly control his muscles, he was very intelligent. Use of a special computer helped him to communicate. That was when he was 11...it was 1973!
"Team Hoyt" began when Rick asked his father to support a classmate who had become paralyzed. A running race was organized to benefit the boy, and Rick wanted to run. Dick Hoyt had never run before, but decided to help Rick out. Dick trained by running with a bag of cement in the wheelchair. Together they ran.
Rick told his father, "Dad, when I’m running, it feels like I’m not handicapped."
Since then, the Hoyt's have completed over 1100 endurance events, including the Boston Marathon 32 times, and 6 Ironmans. Rick (58) is still racing, although Dick (now 80) has become cheerleader.
These are just a few of many, many extraordinary people out there. People who are blind, have one leg, were in a car accident, or are a cancer survivor; all kinds of disabilities or obstacles who have competed in major sporting events or achieved success. I immediately think of Jim Abbott, who was born with one hand, but became a major league pitcher for the California Angels. Or Marlee Matlin, a wonderful, award winning actress who is deaf. Or Alex Zanardi, a champion race car driver that lost both his legs in a crash during a race. He has since gone onto become not just an Ironman, but a gold winning para-Olympian.
I guess what this all leads me to is that we often look up to professional athletes and celebrities. They have been born with extraordinary abilities, whether it is to slam dunk a basketball, throw a 100 mile fast ball, ride their bicycle around France, complete a marathon in 2 hours, or make people laugh or cry on demand. And they are great, and inspiring and totally should be admired.
But, I've always had a soft spot for those that didn't always have it easy. I admire those with heart, a little more than those with natural talent. I've always rooted for the underdog. Maybe that explains part of my love for the Detroit sports teams.
Some of my favorite baseball players were the utility players. The guys who weren't starters, but would go wherever the manager told them to go. They were ready to pinch hit, pinch run, start at a position that may not be their "go to", and just be ready to help the team. Those were my favorites.
The other thing I've learned from people like Chris, the Pease's and even my son J--people who are special needs have an amazing capacity for kindness and empathy. They seem to go out of their way to be helpful to others, often times thinking of others first. They don't feel sorry for themselves for the things they can't do. Instead they do what they can, and help others achieve their dreams.
They also seem to have the biggest smiles out there!
J is my biggest fan! He is always asking how my training is going, and loves riding his bike with me on a trainer in the basement, maybe because Zwift has trains in some of their worlds. :-) This summer, he even rode his bike with me on some training runs. He always does his best, and cheers for everyone!
The night Chris Nikic was completing his Ironman, I watched the finish. I happened to be checking in on Facebook just before bed. Instead of reading as usual, I scrolled to the Ironman feed and watched as Chris and his guide ran that last mile. You could hear the music, the cheering. At one point, I think he had to run past the finish line, and then around the block before coming down the finishing chute. I heard Mike Reilly--the voice of Ironman--call him in. As usual, I teared up...there is just something about hearing, "You are an Ironman" that gets me. But this time, it was even more so.
These are the people that inspire me. The people that make me want to be a better person.
I want to be like Chris, the Hoyts, and the Pease Brothers. I want to be a little more like J.
Those are my heroes.
Who do you want to be like?