When I look in a dictionary for a definition of "hero," it doesn't help me. One says, "Any person, esp. a man, admired for courage, nobility, etc." A second definition doesn't help either: "The central male character in a novel, play, etc."
When I look at a hero, I'm not looking at, or for, gender. Eleanor Roosevelt will always be admired for her sheer presence, incredible honesty in confronting issues, and a determination that would not be denied.
Let's think about a couple of other women who, in their own way, changed history. One is Rosa Parks. She wouldn't let established racial prejudice determine where she would sit on a city bus. Another is Michelle Obama. She graciously is filling the role of the first first lady in the history of the U.S. who happens to be black.
A hero in my youth was aviator Charles Lindbergh. His life took the most severe twists and turns. His vast -- almost fathomless -- mass popularity crashed in the wake of impending events. As a youth, when he flew alone from America to Paris in his small plane, he instantly made world history. He was up there with unforgettable heroes of all time. Talk about ticker-tape parades in major cities. He owned the world. Then he fell precipitously from grace. Who knows precisely why?
The most dramatic incident was when his child was kidnapped and murdered. The world became transfixed. The Lindbergh story grew and grew and grew, totally out of control. Soon he appeared in controversial arenas. He remains an example of the dangers inherent in vast celebrity. At a certain point, it became clear, one can lose all sense of control and become a victim of circumstance.
I remember vividly an afternoon when I stood alongside his simple, almost unmarked grave in a nearly forgotten churchyard in a remote spot in Hawaii. I felt a sense of immense tragedy. Is this where some heroes end up?
We need heroes to inspire us, provide us examples, challenge us by their new ideas and maybe even vision. A number of these are athletes. One of my heroes is tennis star Serena Williams. She seems to have an incredible capacity to hang in there, confound critics and keep going. Heroes who don't stop but continue to compete are incredible role models for youth. Their sheer guts and perseverance move us deeply. They work and work and work, often before our very eyes.
Remember, winning isn't their only gift. Their struggle is.