Sunday, July 19, 2015

Heroes

We were sitting in my mom’s blue suburban after one of my soccer games. I was wearing a plaid green AYSO t-shirt with the number nine on back and long, black shorts and green socks with shin guards up to my knees. Long, blond bangs swept over my eyes, sometimes disrupting with my vision. I was eight.
Me, left, and my sweet cousin, Alyssa, on the right. 1995.
“Mom, I want to become a world cup soccer player one day.  I want to be like Mia Hamm. She’s the best soccer player in the world.” She turned to me, with a smile on her face, knowing that I was a dreamer.
 
Mia Hamm, my childhood hero
“You can be whatever you want if you work hard at it.” She responded, putting her hand on my knee, an affirmation of her support.

Spring, summer, and fall passed and I spent every free moment of my time playing soccer. When I wasn’t playing a game or at practice, I would dribble the ball around the house. The soccer ball became an extension of my foot. On Christmas, I found a collage of Mia Hamm photos my mom had made for me. She put it in my playroom to go with all of the Mia Hamm posters I had collected. My Dad made me a Mia Hamm fansite called. ‘miakicks.com.’ I dreamed that one day I could meet her. She was my childhood hero.

Years passed, and she was still my hero, but I added another person to that list – Derek Fischer of the LA Lakers basketball team. A family ritual we had was to watch basketball games together. Three years in a row, they won the national title and we felt an overwhelming pride for our region of the country.

Derek Fischer was smaller than the rest. He was unassuming. He wasn’t Kobe, who’d had consistent 40-50 point games. He didn’t shine like Kobe did, but he was crucial in their success those three years. Derek was a team player. He pulled through with reserves at the end of the game, making key defenses, and play-making for the offense. I always thought of myself as a Derek Fischer, not gifted but driven, driven to put in the hard work and make it happen. I got a signed player card from him and added it to my little shrine in the corner of my bedroom.
Derek Fischer, the MAN! 


***

In my mind, heroes were untouchable. They were the gods in the heavens, doing all that is right and good in the world. They were passionate and driven, kind and giving. They'd help you when you were down, are self-less, and stoked.  Now that climbing has become the driving force in my life, I have found myself referring to climbers like the heroes of my childhood. Unlike Mia or Derek though, we get to interact with our heroes because we share the same space to play- Yosemite, Indian Creek, Squamish. Our heroes are everywhere and it’s not uncommon to meet them at the crag or on El Capitan. Sometimes I ask myself, “What would Dean or Croft do?” I make references to their boldness, stoke, or demeanor. I idolize them with posters in my cabin for inspiration and read old climbing magazines to fuel the stoke. It brings out the child in me, envisioning a future where I could be like them.

And then, I meet these people. The community is too small to give detailed experiences about people you know or are familiar with, but I realized they weren’t Zeus or Hercules, Luke Skywalker or Frodo - they are just like me, like us. They have insecurities, bad habits, sometimes drinking problems. They can be overweight and boring, living in the shadows of their former self. They can be divas, or stuck-up, assuming they’re above you. And they can be just plain assholes.

I’ve been disenchanted several times with climbing heroes I’ve had. It hurts, and sometimes it feels too personal, like they’ve wronged me even though we’ve never met. My investments emotionally to heroes make me feel like we were friends prior to meeting, like they will be jovial to see me. Maybe I’m naïve - I am naïve. But that’s ok.  So I get mopey for a day or two, start to dislike them, and wonder why I ever thought they were so magnificent and then move on.
 
Daniel Hoer on top of the world, Third Pillar of Dana. Daniel taught me how to adventure, trad climb, and live life to the fullest.
Big-time hero.
This cycle has repeated several times, but each time, it also teaches me that humans are humans – some gifted, some hardworking, some selfless. It makes me happy to be me with my flaws and insecurities, but also appreciative of the qualities that I shine in. After these encounters, I take more time to appreciate my life and lifestyle. I realize I am my own hero.
Public Sanitation Photo Credit: Drew Smith 
Aside from instilling confidence in myself and my path, I also take more time to appreciate the people I have around me. Our tales aren’t in the magazines but shared from ends of ropes or connections made from life-changing shows. They’re shared at inopportune times when things go to shit or over a breathtaking sunset.
 
Yosemite locals, Katie and Ben - everyone's heroes!  Photo Credit: Michael Pang 
My friends are my heroes and I’m fortunate to know them. Vitaliy’s drive and hard-working ethic motivate me to get better and cultivate a healthy competition. If he could do it, I could too. Jim’s optimism on hour 18 of an El Capitan ascent motivates me to keep jugging and suffer on. Katie and Ben, the power couple, do everything with style.  Father Luke, the ultimate weekend warrior, looks out for everyone, making sure we’re stoked, fed, and happy. I could write on and on about everyone who really inspires me, and more than just a sentence, but that would take forever. My inspiration lies in the hearts of all the colorful people in my life, and in myself. Mia Hamm, Derek Fischer, and Alex Honnold may be the best at what they pursue, but our deepest relationships are with our friends and family – our heroes.

Vitaliy, Jim, and Luke to my left on the summit of the Warrior in Red Rocks! HEROES. 




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