Monday, May 21, 2012


Say "hero" and I think of Muhammad Ali lighting the torch at the opening of the Olympics -- float like a butterfly, sting like a bee -- his poetry -- his dancing in the ring, his quicksilver mind and the illness that slowed him, continues to slow him way, way down. And other stories of who he is and what he did, said, and has meant to our country and the world.

His arrogance, his powerful sense of his race, religion, and what it is to be black in white America hasn't faded. Whenever I see him, I feel again what I've felt about him since Cassius Clay refused to fight in Vietnam. Golly, what a hero he is, to me, a white woman who has never been able to sit through a boxing match, who loves, honors, respects, and is inspired by this man.

Say "heroine -- l immediately picture Nadia Comaneci. I don't know why -- maybe because I was so deeply into pointing my toes, stretching, perfecting ballet technical things that weren't natural to my body. And there she was -- pre-pubescent 13 or 14-year-old Nadia, calmly executing those complicated maneuvers.

She astounded me, (and amazed the world), with her confidence, her supple body, her graceful, seemingly effortless coordination of muscles and brain.

Nadia Comaneci is not a woman whose career I've continued to follow. I don't really want to hear how she and her husband train others and continue to build a business on what the teenager accomplished. The vision of 13, and 14 year old Nadia is so strong, so powerfully in my mind, it's as if it happened yesterday.

Roger Federer is a hero. I sort of squint at tennis -- don't follow the "love" score, and let the sportcasters' words fly over me -- "match point, ace, deuce, baseline, break point, double fault." My husband, John Cullum, is an expert, and what he says while we're watching tennis together --especially when we're watching Roger -- makes it extra-special fun.

Here's what I said in a blog I wrote about Federer, September of 2009:
"I almost didn't want to watch the tennis finals on Monday. I was afraid -- because Roger wanted to win so much -- that he might lose.

"Federer cried when he lost the Australian Open -- cried the first time he won Wimbledon. He didn't cry when he lost the finals Monday and that brought tears to my eyes. Federer's spirit, his ability to win -- I don't want him to lose what inspires me. "Right now I'm picturing him, thinking of how he must feel today and my sense is -- he's not mourning. Or reviewing what he might have handled better in the game that he lost. He's thinking ahead, planning what to work on before the next competition. Federer's direct connection to what's important -- Federer's ability to be on the moment at the moment -- that inspires me. That's what I feel, and learn, and want to emulate when I watch Roger Federer -- with keen coordination, keen focus and grace -- playing his game. He's a dancer."

And that's what I feel today. He's thirty, not number one right now, a husband and father, a winner, a champion. Winning or losing, ascending as he's growing older, Federer is a hero magnificently playing the game.

There are others -- names flood my mind -- Magic Johnson, Billie Jean King, Peggy Fleming and ... well ... while you're thinking of names for your list of heroes ad heroines, peruse these short videos of some of my favorite, most memorable moments.


Maureen Jacobs said...

Dorothy Hamil, Mary Lou Retton, Kristi YamaguChi, Nancy Kerrigan, the Williams sisters...all great role models for today.

Scott Hamilton, Jesse Owens, Arthur Ashe, Dick Hoyt, Pele, and of course, Lance Armstrong.

Just a few that inspire me.

Anonymous said...

Heroes and Heroines of sports-great blog Em! Yes, the ones you listed and described are on my list also. Remember Jenner who won all the events? I have too many to list. But, they continue to inspire us and keep us rooting for them! kam

Carola said...

My all-time sports hero is Jackie Robinson. When I was in grade school, we asked him to come speak to our school and he did. I remember waiting for him and looking out the window over the street. There he was, just a simple man, walking alone, in a polo shirt--probably just got off the subway.

MikesFilmTalk said...

Unfortunately when I hear of sports "figures" I don't think of the word "hero" anymore. Todays sport personalities just don't fit that mold. Tiger Woods, for example, with his meteoric rise in the golfing world ending in a blaze of the worst possible kind of publicity.

But like two of the "heroes" you mention, the sports personalities of yesterday were just that, heroes.

I definitely concur with the inclusion of the magnificent Mohammed Ali. When he was Cassius Clay he stood by his principles and refused to be involved in a war he did not believe in. It resulted in a prison sentence and a name change. Sure it was a scandal at the time, but the type of publicity it generated was not career damaging. It merely reaffirmed what we already suspected of Ali. That he is a man who lives by his beliefs and would not comprimise them for anyone.

I do not think there is anyone out there at the moment that could possibly share the mantle of hero. Not to the extent that the older generation of sports figures did.

There are sportsmen and women that I still admire. Martina Navrátilová perhaps, or Lewis Hamilton (although Hamilton really falls into the classification of all-around "nice guy") I cannot really think of any others.

It is a shame that the world does not seem capable of spawning new heroes. I think we could use some more Mickey Mantles or Babe Ruths...Someone who can point to an area of the stand and say, "I'm putting the next one right there, kid." You know, People who mesmorize and inspire us.

Anonymous said...

Say 'sports' hero and Broadway Joe Namath pops into my mind. Joe's a relic now, but he'll never be replaced in my book. I was watching on the TV when he told the reporters the dog-ass jets would win that super bowl against terrible odds and they did. You can't top that act. For the rest of my life, whenever I needed a shot of confidence, I'd think back about that one.

My sentimental favorite will always be AJ Foyt. I teared up when I watched him qualify at Indy for the last time; doing 200+ MPH laps at age 57. I don't see another AJ on the horizon.

In the current crop of athletes, I'd have to pick Derek Jeter. I like the boy's style. My wife says I have a man crush on him.

Male chauvinist pig that I am, I never thought much about female athletic heroes. Billie Jean King had a condo near us in Hilton Head once and I got to talk with her a few times. She radiated health, fitness and charisma in a way I've never forgotten, so I suppose I choose her.

I've always been fascinated with ballet dancers. Are they athletes?