Archive for the 'Sports Heroes' Category

Shavarsh Karapetyan: The Underwater Battle of the Champion

By Sharon Novikov, Matt Rosenthal, & Russell Pine

Shavarsh Karapetyan is a retired Soviet Armenian finswimmer. He is an 11-time World Record holder, 17-time World Champion, 13-time European Champion and 7-time Soviet Champion.

Despite his prolific accomplishments in the water, Karapetyan is much more well- known in the former USSR for his heroic, self-sacrificing actions on September 16, 1976. Just as he finished a 12 mile training run with his brother alongside the Yerevan Lake in Yerevan, Armenia, a trolleybus veered out of control, fell from the dam wall, and crashed into the reservoir, 80 feet from shore and 33 feet deep into the water. Karapetyan swam to the bus, and despite almost zero visibility in the dirty water, broke the back window of the bus with his legs and began pulling people out.

The trolleybus was crowded with as many as 92 passengers and Karapetyan knew he had little time, spending approximately 30-35 seconds for each person he saved. Karapetyan managed to rescue 20 people (he picked up many more, but 20 of them survived), before the combined effects of the freezing water and wounds from broken glass rendered him unconscious, where he remained for 45 days. The damages sustained from his selfless, heroic act included subsequent sepsis (due to the presence of raw sewage in the lake water), and lung complications, ending his athletic career. Today’s experts agree that no one but Shavarsh could have been physically able to do what did, and the passengers on the bus are lucky that he was there when the crash happened.

Karapetyan’s feat was not immediately and widely recognized. The photos from the accident scene were censored and released to the public only two years later, and the first newspaper article about this accident and Shavarsh’s heroic rescue actions was published six long years after the incident. The publication revealed that he was the rescuer, making his name a household name in the USSR. Subsequently, he received about 60,000 letters and was awarded a medal “For the Rescue of the Drowning”, the Order of the Badge of Honor, and a UNESCO “Fair Play” award for his heroism.

To this day, Karapetyan doesn’t consider his act as heroic or extraordinary. When asked how he managed to do what he did, he humbly replied, “I was simply closer to the crash than anyone else.” He also admitted that he would have rather died than not jump into the water that day. That was his only choice. He simply did what he knew was right, what he was supposed to do in such situation, no matter how difficult and dangerous it was.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Karapetyan’s feat is that he wasn’t satisfied with the number of people he managed to save. Later describing the incident, he said, “I knew that I could only save so many lives, I was afraid to make a mistake. It was so dark down there that I could barely see anything. One of my dives, I accidentally grabbed a seat instead of a passenger… I could have saved a life instead. That seat still haunts me in my nightmares.” Karapetyan managed to save the lives of 20 strangers in the dark, toxic waters, and he’s still haunted by the 21st he could have saved instead of the seat cushion.

Incredibly, Karapetyan found himself in another heroic situation nine years later. On February 19, 1985, he happened to be near a burning building with many people trapped inside. Without a second of hesitation, he ran into the building and began pulling people out to safety. Again, he suffered serious personal injury, this time in the form of severe burns to his body, and spent many weeks recovering in the hospital.

When his wounds healed and he felt better, Shavarsh got back to practices and managed to set yet another world record swimming with a scuba set for a 0.25 mile distance in 3 minutes and 6.2 seconds. This was his eleventh and last world record. He couldn’t proceed with his athletic career, as his injuries severely impaired his health, and he was forced to leave his outstanding sports career behind.

Karapetyan made a great moral contribution that was only possible through his exceptional swimming ability. His heroic act was one of incredible personal sacrifice and valor. While he doesn’t follow the typical monomythic hero path, his courageous behavior, coupled with an admirable sense of humility, exemplifies the heroic definition of someone who makes great contributions that require both great morality and great ability.

Throughout his life, Shavarsh never sought recognition and never claimed any credit for his super-heroic acts. After leaving his sports career he has been living a simple life, working as a school principal and raising his three children. Today he owns and operates a small shoe repair shop in Moscow called “Second Breath.”

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Sharon Novikov, Matt Rosenthal, & Russell Pine are undergraduate students at the University of Richmond. They wrote this essay as part of their course requirement while enrolled in Dr. Scott Allison’s Social Psychology class.

Muhammad Ali: The Odyssey of a Heroic Champion

Oops!  We had to remove the hero profile you’re looking for because it will soon appear in our new book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals, to be published by Routledge in 2013.

Our contract at Routledge required us to remove many of our profiles on our blog at this time.  But we do have other hero profiles and information about heroes on the menu bar located on the right side of this page.  Check it out!

In the mean time, please accept our apologies.  Here is more information about our new book.

You can click here to return to our HERO home page.  And thanks for visiting!

– Scott Allison and George Goethals

Jeremy Lin: The Hero Who Came Out of Nowhere

By Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals

There are times when real-life hero stories are so unlikely, and so inspiring, that they have the appearance of a fairy tale.  The story of New York Knick basketball player Jeremy Lin is one such tale.

Lin played college basketball at Harvard, a school known far more for its academics than for its athletics.  Lin was a star player at Harvard, but when he graduated in 2010, there were no professional basketball teams in the NBA interested in him.  He was judged to be a marginally skilled player who lacked athleticism.

Eventually the Golden State Warriors decided to take a chance with Lin, but they gave him little playing time and eventually cut him from the team.  The Houston Rockets then did the same.  Lin’s basketball future looked bleak.

But Lin never abandoned his dream to play professionally.  He began this current basketball season languishing at the end of the New York Knicks’ bench, still waiting for his chance.  There appeared to be little hope that Lin would ever be able to prove himself on the basketball court.

At this point, the magical part of the fairy tale kicks in.  On February 5, 2012, with the Knicks struggling to win games, coach Mike D’Antoni took a chance and decided to bring Lin into a game against the New Jersey Nets.   Lin proceeded to dazzle everyone by scoring 25 points and handing out 7 assists, leading the Knicks to victory.  His performance stunned everybody.

Was it a fluke?  There was only one way to find out.  Coach D’Antoni allowed Lin to start the next game against the Utah Jazz.  This time Lin scored 28 points and dished out 8 assists, again leading the Knicks to victory.  Next came the Washington Wizards.  The Knicks won again with Lin scoring 23 points and getting a career-high 10 assists.  Against the Los Angeles Lakers, Lin poured in 38 points and had 7 assists.  He out-played the Lakers’ future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, who muttered, “Players don’t come out of nowhere.”

In his first four games as a starter, Lin scored more points (109) than any player in NBA history.   That includes legends such as Michael Jordan and LeBron James.  “I have never seen this,” said Knicks coach D’Antoni. “What he’s doing is amazing.”  Lin is the first New York-based team athlete to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated two weeks in a row since the magazine started in 1954.  Lin’s stunning rise to stardom has captivated New York Kick fans, who erupt into a Beatlemania-like frenzy whenever Lin touches the ball.  The phenomenon has been called Linsanity.

As if Lin’s storybook rise to fame isn’t enough, he has also shown remarkable humility and generosity off the basketball court.  When interviewed, Lin comes across as genuinely gracious, modest, and grateful for the opportunities given him.  He always gives credit to his teammates first.  One day he wants to become a pastor devoted to helping others and establishing non-profit organizations to assist those less fortunate than him.  Lin also plans to work in inner-city communities to help underprivileged children.

Every once in a while, a hero appears out of nowhere to accomplish goals that no one could ever have anticipated.  The story has a powerful, almost archetypal quality to it.  It reminds us of fables and childhood tales that mesmerize us at a young age.  No one expects Cinderella to become a princess or the ugly duckling to grow into a majestic swan.  These stories inspire and move us because they are so very rare and have such a great emotional payoff.  And when they do occur, as with Jeremy Lin, our views about the promise and hope of humankind are rekindled.

Below is clip showing some highlights of Jeremy Lin leading the Knicks to victory over the Lakers.

http://youtu.be/jASZKxSMhcM

Joe Paterno: The Death of a Fallen Hero

Oops!  We had to remove the hero profile you’re looking for because it will soon appear in our new book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals, to be published by Routledge in 2013.

Our contract at Routledge required us to remove many of our profiles on our blog at this time.  But we do have other hero profiles and information about heroes on the menu bar located on the right side of this page.  Check it out!

In the mean time, please accept our apologies.  Here is more information about our new book.

You can click here to return to our HERO home page.  And thanks for visiting!

– Scott Allison and George Goethals

Tebow and Tiger: Two Trending-Up Sports Heroes

By Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals

Heroes usually don’t appear or disappear instantly.  Like buildings in an inner city, heroes are either being constructed or torn down.  People who enjoy a rising trajectory of accomplishment and fame are said to be trending upward toward heroism.  Fading heroes are said to be trending downward.  In earlier blog posts, we noted that Lady Gaga and Woodrow Wilson are examples are individuals who are trending upward and downward, respectively.

In the sports world, a couple of athletes appear to be trending favorably toward heroism.  A fascinating story is that of Tim Tebow, quarterback of the Denver Broncos, who is emerging as one of the most unexpected heroes in the National Football League.  When this current football season began, Tebow’s slow unorthodox throwing motion and frequent erratic tosses reduced him to a near-laughingstock of the NFL.  Very few people believed that he could succeed as a professional quarterback.

Tebow is somehow defying the odds.  He sat on the Broncos’ bench to begin the season and it appeared unlikely he would see any playing time.  But with the Broncos struggling to win games, fans began to chant his name, imploring Denver’s coach to give Tebow a chance.  On October 9th, late in a game in which the Broncos were trailing badly, Denver’s coach sent in Tebow.  He fell just short of singlehandedly winning the game.  Since that time, Tebow has engineered a series of unlikely, come-from-behind wins.  His powerful running ability, coupled with improved accuracy in his throwing, has endeared him to fans and teammates.  He also demonstrates quiet, inspired leadership.  Only time will tell if Tebow’s ascendancy to near-heroism continues into the NFL post-season.

Tiger Woods is also a unique story.  Earlier we blogged about Tiger’s fall from grace.   Throughout 2009 and 2010, his widely-publicized extra-marital affairs and possible sex addiction led to severe condemnations about his character.  Tiger’s leg injuries compromised his golf game and compounded his miseries.  He went from being the most dominant player in golf history to a complete non-factor in the golf world.

But over the past several weeks, Tiger Woods has become a changed man both on and off the golf course.   His knee and achillees heel are finally healthy.  On the course, Tiger is once again making spectacular shots and holing crucial putts.  He secured the winning point in the recent President’s Cup and won a golf tournament after a 2-year dry spell.  Perhaps most tellingly, Tiger appears happy and centered as a person.  Once aloof, Tiger has warmed up to the media and to his fellow competitors on the golf tour.  He has shed his inner-demons.  The fallen hero is now rising again.

Heroism is often in a state of flux.  A hero today is a goat or villain tomorrow, particularly in the sports world.  Tiger and Tebow may continue to enjoy success and savor the taste of heroic status.  Or they may plummet back to earth.  Such are the vicissitudes of heroism.  But today, in December of 2011, these two individuals are trending upward toward heroism.  We look forward to following their future trajectories.

Secretariat: The Hero Who Obliterated Triple Crown Records

Oops!  We had to remove the hero profile you’re looking for because it will soon appear in our new book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals, to be published by Routledge in 2013.

Our contract at Routledge required us to remove many of our profiles on our blog at this time.  But we do have other hero profiles and information about heroes on the menu bar located on the right side of this page.  Check it out!

In the mean time, please accept our apologies.  Here is more information about our new book.

You can click here to return to our HERO home page.  And thanks for visiting!

– Scott Allison and George Goethals

Tiger Woods: The Ebb and Flow of Fame and Fortune

Oops!  We had to remove the hero profile you’re looking for because it will soon appear in our new book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals, to be published by Routledge in 2013.

Our contract at Routledge required us to remove many of our profiles on our blog at this time.  But we do have other hero profiles and information about heroes on the menu bar located on the right side of this page.  Check it out!

In the mean time, please accept our apologies.  Here is more information about our new book.

You can click here to return to our HERO home page.  And thanks for visiting!

– Scott Allison and George Goethals

VCU and Butler: Heroes Shifting the Balance of Power in NCAA Basketball

By Scott T. Allison and George R. Goethals

Almost inevitably in life one sees a clash between top dogs and underdogs, between the "haves" and the "have-nots".  NCAA basketball features such a division. There are the "Big Six" conferences that have traditionally dominated the college basketball scene, schools comprising the Big East, the Big Ten, the ACC, the Big 12, the Pac 10, and the SEC.

The remaining non-Big Six teams, representing over 80% of college basketball, are underdog schools who are given little respect and little chance of ever prevailing over their Big Six brethren.

But the past two NCAA tournaments have witnessed a shift in the balance of power, along with a slowness of the Big Six and the national media to recognize it.  More and more, the underdogs are kicking sand in the faces of the Big Six.

Last year, Butler University from the little-known Horizon League came within a whisker of defeating Duke for the national championship.  And in this year's Final Four, Butler is joined by VCU from the Colonial Athletic Association, making half the Final Four non Big Six teams who are still, somehow, viewed as underdogs.

It is very clear that the Big Six, along with the major media outlets who cover them, are fiercely resisting the notion that their era of dominance is over.  It is human nature for those in power to have blinders when it comes to acknowledging that their power has weakened.  Denial is indeed a powerful psychological force.

Heroes are people who prevail even when others don't believe in them.  VCU's fabulous journey to the Final Four was fueled, in part, by the disrespect shown them by the basketball elite who continue to overestimate the Big Six and underestimate the parity that now exists across the basketball landscape.

A lesson can be learned here:  Beware hubris.  Human history is replete with stories of powerful entities whose demise was caused, in part, by their inability to recognize when their power has eroded.  Butler's near-miss last year should have put a dent in the massive hubris on display among NCAA basketball media moguls.  But it didn't.

Either Butler or VCU has to win the national championship for the Big Six to finally admit that they aren't so big anymore.  As we work in the city of Richmond, we're rooting for VCU.

Go Rams!

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Do you have a hero that you would like us to profile?  If so, please contact Scott Allison at sallison@richmond.edu.

Warren Spahn: The Greatest Left Hander Ever

Oops!  We had to remove the hero profile you’re looking for because it will soon appear in our new book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals, to be published by Routledge in 2013.

Our contract at Routledge required us to remove many of our profiles on our blog at this time.  But we do have other hero profiles and information about heroes on the menu bar located on the right side of this page.  Check it out!

In the mean time, please accept our apologies.  Here is more information about our new book.

You can click here to return to our HERO home page.  And thanks for visiting!

– Scott Allison and George Goethals

Althea Gibson: Barrier Breaker and Way Paver

Oops!  We had to remove the hero profile you’re looking for because it will soon appear in our new book Heroic Leadership: An Influence Taxonomy of 100 Exceptional Individuals, to be published by Routledge in 2013.

Our contract at Routledge required us to remove many of our profiles on our blog at this time.  But we do have other hero profiles and information about heroes on the menu bar located on the right side of this page.  Check it out!

In the mean time, please accept our apologies.  Here is more information about our new book.

You can click here to return to our HERO home page.  And thanks for visiting!

– Scott Allison and George Goethals