Heroes aren’t born, but built

“Do not go gentle into that good night” -Dylan Thomas

Met up with Thaddeus for dinner last night. Thaddeus is Singapore’s own superman who had completed the 250 km Sahara Race last year (and has clearly lived to tell the tale!)

A fascinating story transpired from the dinner conversation: Baoren Gong is a swimmer from China who had competed in the Sydney 2000 Paralympics. The one thing that distinguished him from the other competitors was that he had no arms. How one can stay afloat without two limbs, never mind swim competitively, is beyond me. But here’s the fascinating fact: in the 100 metre breaststroke event, Mr. Gong missed the gold medal by a hair’s width, coming in just 0.03 seconds later than… er, a competitor whom the internet has collectively failed to remember 10 years on. (If anyone knows his name, do please let me know.)

Not to take away from the gold medalist’s victory, but there is something to be said for a man whom, without arms and thus had to headbutt the wall to finish the race, came so close to total victory and had dared us all to believe that the unimaginable is in fact achievable.

Gong Baoren 2Gong Baoren (photo source: Liaoning Gateway)

To me, the world is filled with legends like this one — of people who may not be your archetypal superhero, with logs for biceps, butt of granite and a cape to boot. These are the stories of the real superheroes, people who might not have all four limbs or have simply seen greater misfortune in their lifetime than most can bear to imagine — this is the story of how they refuse to use their misfortune as an excuse to slip away. It is a testament of otherwise ordinary people whom, in the face of hardship, have instead found unquantified reserves of strength to transcend that which has been put before them.

These are the real superheroes, for heroes do not come into being by accident or by Providence; they are shaped through a series of decisions made in a course of a lifetime. And if those with a physical disability can go so far and achieve so much, what are the rest of us doing? What excuse do we have to achieve anything less than our best?

The year I entered Cornell, I received a piece of advice at orientation that I will take with me to the grave:

“To do anything less than your best is to sacrifice a gift.”

I may not be the first to cross the finish line in the Sahara, but I have no intentions to sacrifice a gift either.

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