There is nothing more inspiring than a hero. Someone who goes up against impossible odds, holding to a dream. Someone who faces devastation and yet refuses defeat. Someone who forges past unthinkable obstacles to reach extraordinary achievement. And the greatest hero does it all for the service of others.
We see heroes in movies all the time—sometimes wearing red capes. And we love them! Why? Because they reflect that pureness inside each of us that wants to believe if the world threatened to crush us, we too would rise like a phoenix, we too would stand for the underdog, we too would save the day.
We love heroes because they raise the bar on our own humanity.
Eric Northbrook is my cousin. He’s not a movie star like Christopher Reeves, but he did start a foundation called HeadNorth, which helps people with spinal cord injuries reclaim their lives. Who would do such a profoundly compassionate thing?
In January 2006 Eric was living the American dream, a successful commercial real estate exec with a lovely wife, Denise, and two adorable kids. Then his world went spinning. He was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident. Suddenly paraplegic, he had every excuse to collapse in despair. Instead he built a foundation. With Denise by his side, he not only regained his own footing but helped others find theirs. He took the fall and came back fighting, invincible.
Then Denise died. In 2010 she passed from cancer at only 43 years old, leaving Eric a bereaved husband and single father. It is agonizing to imagine. Who overcomes such unbearable heartbreak?
Despite it all, Eric keeps going. This month he took the Challenged Athletes Foundation Million Dollar Challenge—a seven-day, 620-mile bike ride from San Francisco to San Diego—using only his arms! In a recent email he wrote, “I am dedicating this ride to my late wife Denise and our two beautiful children Justin and Sydney.”
Raising the bar. That’s my cuz.
Okay, truth is Eric and I are 3rd cousins and we don’t really know each other. I follow him through my mother’s emails. But the family tie still feels significant. It makes me think maybe I have a little of what Eric has inside me. Courage. Stamina. Faith.
Of course all of us do.
Hopefully we are never pushed to reveal our strongest selves through the kind of inconceivable tragedy that Eric has faced. But knowing he is out there braving it for the greater good is incredibly inspiring. It makes me stand a little taller against the odds. Work a little harder to reach my goals. Give a little more to help others.
Eric is a super man. He may have traded the red cape for a hand cycle… but, man, he still flies.