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What Makes A Person A Hero?

Ann Bancroft, author, teacher, explorer of the Arctic and Antartic grew up as a child with a learning disability. She never let her supposed drawbacks stop her from living and exploring the world of ice.

For me the greatest obstacles are never on the ice itself. That’s the area I excel in. That’s where my passion is. I think we all strive to push ourselves, to overcome our struggles. And when we do, we get to know ourselves better.

Life is constantly throwing curve balls at us. Just when we think we have it all sorted out and neatly arranged in little boxes, everything changes. For some of us that understanding comes in really early, as children. This is especially true of differently-abled children and children diagnosed with rare disorders. It is as if life forces them to assess their situation early on and make decisions.

Steven Claunch is one such young man. This aspiring basketball player has no fingers on his right hand. His right leg is shorter than his left. He has undergone three surgeries to bring both legs to the same plane.

In his remarkable 4- minutes talk about overcoming obstacles in Ted Ed Lessons Steven acknowledges that everyone faces obstacles. He cites Jim Abbott, who despite having only one good arm became a pitcher for the New York Yankees. As a child, Jim thought the other kids did not play with him because he had only one arm. His father gently corrected him, saying that they didn’t play with him because he was a bad player. Practicing made Jim Abbott a winner. By working on this obstacle, he overcame it.

Steven emphasises if you have a goal, you have to work for it, fully cognizant of your shortcomings. Steven says his obstacles are visible, but everyone has obstacles. A person could be from a poor family or have learning disabilities. People will constantly tell you how you can never excel because of these obstacles. Prove them wrong by working steadfastly to your dream.

Sam Berns suffered from the rare progeria, making him look 70+ at 17. His disease did not allow him to exert himself heavily. So Sam decided, instead of focussing on what he couldn’t do, he would turn his attention to what he could. In this case, it was music, scouting, and comic books. His speech highlights the importance of being grateful and surrounding yourself with people who love and support you. Sam says the way is forward – plan for projects ahead, however small – this will help you keep going.

Once, Sam came down with a chest cold and he was kept in seclusion. Sam felt he would get better and put his energies into thinking about the things he would do when he got better.

And sometimes I had to be brave, and it wasn’t always easy. Sometimes I faltered, I had bad days, but I realised that being brave isn’t supposed to be  easy.

His final piece of advice to staying happy was,

Never miss a party if you can help it.


No one perhaps knew about obstacles, as much as Ernest Shackleton the Antarctican explorer who so wisely said:

Difficulties are just things to overcome after all.

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The struggles and obstacles Shackleton overcame have been documented in William Grill’s beautifully constructed and illustrated Shackleton’s Journey. William Grill writes about the book:

In the last days of the Heroic Age of Exploration, Ernest Shackleton dreamed of crossing the frozen heart of Antarctica, a place of ferocious seas, uncharted mountains and bone-chilling cold. But when his ship, the Endurance became trapped in the deadly grip of the ice, Shackleton’s dreams were shattered. Stranded in a cold, white world, and thousands of miles from home, the men of the expedition set out on a desperate trek across the ice in search of rescue.

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Equally inspiring is the story of Henri Rousseau, a toll collector who dreamed of painting pictures. This self-taught artist who learned from Nature and the Louvre museum was scoffed at by critics.

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Rosseau quietly continued to paint. Michelle Markel’s wonderful ‘The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rosseau‘ traces the story of this remarkable Parisian artist in picture book format.

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A city dweller his entire life, the botanical gardens of Paris inspired him to draw colourful, exotic and amazing jungle animals in a tropical setting.

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Despite the naysayers, Rosseau followed his passion, doing odd jobs to sustain himself. So great was his impact that he greatly moved Picasso and Matisse.

Every time you feel you’ve come face to face with an insurmountable obstacle, it would be wise to fall back on the lyrics of Mariah Carey’s beautiful song, ‘Hero’

Lord knows
Dreams are hard to follow
But don’t let anyone
Tear them away
Hold on
There will be tomorrow
In time
You’ll find the way

And then a hero comes along
With the strength to carry on
And you cast your fears aside
And you know you can survive
So when you feel like hope is gone
Look inside you and be strong
And you’ll finally see the truth
That a hero lies in you


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