My kids are fond of saying, “He’s my new hero!” when hearing or reading of someone (usually a male; hence, the “he”) who is doing or has done something they consider to be totally awesome. I have my own new hero these days, the young woman with whom I tested for a brown belt in Myo Sim Kendo in February 2008. At the time we tested, she was one-third my age, which sounds so much nicer (to me) than saying that I was three times her age. Whatever. When we tested, she was 17 and I was 51; we’ve both since moved up a year on the age scale.
At first glance, one might not expect her to be my new hero. Besides the age difference, she joked about putting her “Run, Hillary, Run” bumber sticker on the front of her car, while mine definitely went on the rear bumper. In terms of both politics and religion, those two subjects rarely brought up in polite company, we’re sort of at opposite ends of the continua. All that aside, I’ve told her she’s my new hero because of where she is and what she’s doing these days.
She’s my hero these days for knowing as well as anyone can as a teenager what she wants to do with her life at least for a while, taking the steps to make it all happen, and then following through and doing it, hard though it may be. She’s now into her third week of Basic Cadet Training (known to some as “Basic Cadet Torture”) at the US Air Force Academy, currently living in a tent at someplace called Jacks Valley for two weeks, doing such things as learning field first aid, hand-to-hand combat, and how to shoot an M-16; running the obstacle course and an “assault course”; and (my personal favorite) putting on padded suits and fighting with sticks. I expect that my new hero will excel at this given her kendo experience. She’s certainly used to sparring with men much bigger than she is; two of her fellow kendo students are her height while they are on their knees, and she holds her own with them as well as or better than any student at her level.
As I told her in one of my cards (cards and letters supposedly really helping Basics get through their training), I don’t think I could have done what she’s doing when I was her age. Physically, my body might have been able to handle the training, but I know I couldn’t have handled it mentally. Now, I probably could handle the mental part, but the physical part, probably not. There’s also the issue of knowing at some deep level what she wants to do with her life. I’ve always admired people who know what they want to do when they grow up, or who have the whole ten-year career plan mapped out. There’s probably a comfort there that those of us who much more wing it through life might enjoy were we to feel it.
About 1,400 Basics started their training at the Academy almost three weeks ago. I think about 20 have left so far, having decided that it wasn’t for them. Another 300 or so will leave before the graduation. I hope my new hero makes it. I think she will, but even if she doesn’t she’d still be my hero for trying. (And if you're wondering why I've very pointedly left her name out of this post, it's just in case anyone she knows out there were to find it; I wouldn't want this to come back to haunt her.)