American stuntman and performer Evel Knievel was my childhood hero. I admired him because he seemed fearless in his amazing stunts, and he had a cool fashion sense, donning a stars-and-stripes jumpsuit and a snazzy cape. As a child, I believed qualities like these were worth acquiring, and I longed for a daredevil spirit and a flashy wardrobe of my own.
I had all the Evel Knievel souvenirs and merchandise any child could want; I built my own ramp to create my own stunts, which ultimately yielded scaled-down results of what Knievel accomplished. Remember what happened when he attempted to fly over the thirteenth bus?
Knievel survived some horrific crashes. At one point, he held the Guinness World Record for having broken more bones in his body than anyone else. His reputation, however, could not endure some of the poor choices he made in life. I still remember my heart breaking when I heard the news that he had assaulted one of his detractors with a baseball bat. “Not Evel Knievel!” I protested. Why would my hero stoop so low as to beat up a defenseless man?
Following his death in November of 2007, the FBI released files indicating that in 1970 Knievel came close to being charged for his alleged involvement in a series of violent offenses. The 290-page file reports that FBI agents believed he was involved in a string of beatings that occurred in Phoenix, Kansas City, and San Francisco.
Heroes simply don’t prey on the weak. Since learning about my childhood hero’s dark side, I’ve been more careful in the selection of my heroes.
Making the Switch
Before reaching my teen years, I chose to shift my admiration to real acts of heroism. Such acts have helped me better understand my own abilities, limitations, and aspirations. I’ve drawn strength from carefully observing those actions that make me proud to be human and eager to take on greater challenges.
Today, we are awash in celebrity scandals; heroes crash and burn every day. We can either become jaded, not looking to others as role models, or we can adjust our view to focus on acts of heroism to emulate rather than on heroes to worship.
I now find myself in a place where I witness daily acts of courage and excellence. Here are just a few of them:
- Returning to school to switch professions. Wow! It’s creative, action-oriented, empowering, and daunting to step away from the familiar to try something new.
- Juggling classes with a job and/or family responsibilities. How do they do it? These students have amazing time-management skills, along with the determination to see a project through. They are unflappable and resourceful.
- Practicing humility in order to improve one’s skills. This may be the most appealing feat of all. How many people are capable of letting go of ego to listen mindfully to feedback? Not many. I have two types of students: those who ask why I gave them a particular grade, and those who ask what they need to do differently to earn a better grade. The latter are the ones who are more likely to find themselves on the Dean’s List.
These are just three of the many acts of heroism I see each day. Look around you — in your community, at your campus — and you’ll see them too. These acts are not death-defying, nor singular, nor unattainable.
I will likely never pop a wheelie or jump over the Snake River because I am aware that I lack the agility and physical strength. I do know, however, that I have it within myself to be bold, accept challenges, take control of my own personal circumstances, and quiet my ego so I can become a better person. It isn’t easy, but it’s worth striving for. I now take my inspiration from the less flashy but more worthwhile acts of valor.
About the Author
Elizabeth Sanchez is the associate dean for California College San Diego, San Diego campus.