True Heroes

Courage + Believe = LIFE

This summer I have decided to develop some web pages dedicated to people that I'm going to label "True Heros". Below this paragraph I plan to spend the summer placing links to web sites that will make you laugh, will make you cry, will make you think, and in the end will hopefully inspire you to do something heroic. Enjoy!!!

My first "True Hero" is John Challis of Monaca, Pennsylvania
ESPN "First Hit" Article

At the age of 16, John was diagnosed with Hepatocellular Carcinoma, an adult form of liver cancer. He was diagnosed at Stage 4 of this cancer and has undergone aggressive chemotherapy treatments in an attempt to save his life. John's outlook on life has been one of a true inspiration. He feels that God has given him this disease because he is strong enough to handle it and can help others by spreading his message. His message is "It is not how many breaths you take, it is what you do with each breath you take."

Email John at <>

My second "True Hero" is Tara Suri of Scarsdale, New York

Galvanized by the poverty and sexism she saw in India, at the age of thirteen, Tara Suri founded H.O.P.E. (Helping Orphans Pursue Education) to provide all children with opportunities we often take for granted. She started out small - holding bakesales, making bracelets, and even recycling used soda cans - but her idea was big. Now, the initiative has morphed into a greater movement to stimulate youth action: Turn Your World Around. Our initiatives have raised nearly $40,000 to make the world a better place and engaged hundreds in activism. Tara, now seventeen, has received various awards for her work. In 2007, she was named a Nestle Very Best in Youth, a finalist in the Build-a-Bear Huggable Heroes Competition, and received the President's Call to Service Award. She also was selected out of 21,000 applicants as the CosmoGirl! of the Year. In 2008, she was named a We Are Family Foundation Three Dot Dash Global Teen Leader, a Bentley Tomorrow25, and was featured on CNN Young People Who Rock. Most recently, Tara was named the Grand Prize Winner of the MTV / Taco Bell Teen Hero Awards and received the New York State "Triple C" Award. Tara serves on Youth Service America's National Youth Council, as well as their National Board of Directors. Through YSA, Tara plans and implements conferences and grants. She is also a member of the State Farm Youth Advisory Board, which distributes $5 million in grants.

Email Tara at <>

My third "True Hero" is the late Ryan White of Cicero, Indiana

Ryan White was diagnosed with AIDS at age 13 and gained international notoriety fighting for his right to attend school. In the process, he opened the hearts and minds of millions of people. He was, as Ted Koppel described him on Nightline, “an extraordinary young man; brave, tolerant, and wise beyond his years.”

During the time between his diagnosis in 1984 and his death in 1990, Ryan was featured on numerous television shows and magazine covers and was the subject of a television movie about his life. He became friends with world-renowned athletes and entertainers, including Elton John, Greg Luoganis, and Michael Jackson, all of whom offered Ryan and his family their support. He spoke out often and eloquently about the challenges he faced and the need for greater compassion towards people with HIV and AIDS. Despite the ravages of the illness to his body and the discrimination he faced, Ryan remained a positive, healing force throughout his life.

Ryan contracted HIV through blood-based products used to treat his hemophilia. He learned that he had the virus when he contracted a life-threatening lung infection. At the time, he was told he had no more than six months to live. While recuperating and thinking about the limited time he had left, Ryan told his mother Jeanne that he wanted to live a normal life, go to school, be with friends, and enjoy day-to-day activities.

Unfortunately, Ryan’s school and his community responded with fear and ignorance. The local superintendent refused to allow Ryan to attend school, a move supported by teachers and parents. Ryan and his family fought the decision, but Ryan was forced to “attend” school by telephone for months while his case made its way through an administrative appeals process. Once the state board of education ruled that he should be allowed to return to school a group of parents sued to keep him out. The courts ultimately ruled in Ryan’s favor, and he did return to school.

Sadly, he was met with taunts and unfounded rumors and some students chose to be home-schooled rather than attend with Ryan. Ryan weathered the storm with tremendous patience and grace, never demonizing those who sought to demonize him.

Ultimately, though, the family decided to move to another community. According to Ryan, they made this choice because of their “desire to move into a bigger house, to avoid living AIDS daily, and a dream to be accepted by a community and school.” They moved to Cicero, Indiana, where Ryan enrolled in Hamilton Heights High School and was welcomed with open arms. The students had taken it upon themselves to learn about AIDS and educate their parents and teachers, as well. Ryan thrived in his new environment, attending school events, learning to drive, and making the honor roll.

Ryan’s story captured the attention of the media and the public and his courage, determination, and positive attitude made him a hero for many. He appeared on the covers of The Saturday Evening Post, USA Weekend, LIFE, and People (three times). He also appeared on Nightline, Today, Phil Donahue, Sally Jessy Rapheal, West 57th, Good Morning America, and Prime Time Live.. He testified before the National Commission on AIDS.

Though constantly surprised by the notoriety he received because of his seemingly simple wish just to go to school, Ryan nevertheless recognized the value of the spotlight and seized the opportunities he was given. Throughout all of his appearances, he gave voice to the desires of thousands of people with HIV/AIDS who wanted only to be treated with respect and compassion and given the opportunity to live as normal a life as possible. Ryan’s visibility and outspokenness were especially crucial in the early days of the AIDS epidemic.

Because Ryan was infected through blood products and not through sexual contact or intravenous drug use, many found him more sympathetic than others with HIV and AIDS. Ryan, however, rejected all attempts to portray him as “innocent.” He never drew a line between himself and other people living with HIV and AIDS and always urged compassion and support for all people living with the disease.

Ryan died on Palm Sunday, April 8, 1990, with his mother, his sister Andrea, his grandparents, his uncle and his friend Elton John at his bedside. Ryan’s funeral was among the largest in Indiana history. Elton John performed at the ceremony, which included Michael Jackson and First Lady Barbara Bush among the mourners.

Ryan’s legacy lives on in many ways. The Ryan White CARE Act is a federal program that funds services for over 500,000 people with HIV/AIDS each year. The annual Ryan White Youth Conference brings together young people working on HIV/AIDS in communities across the country and the Ryan White Forest commemorates the lives of people with AIDS in Israel. Ryan’s mom, Jeanne White-Ginder continues to speak with audiences across the country, carrying Ryan’s message of love, compassion and hope.

My last "True Hero" for summer 2008 is Travis Roy of Boston

"2000 Stanley Cup Champions Martin Brodeur & Bob Carpenter of the Devils joined Travis Roy"

Travis Roy, a young hopeful in the world of hockey, finally realized his lifelong dream - only to see it turn, in an instant, into an unexpected nightmare. Yet for Travis another, even more unanticipated, saga was about to begin. That story, a drama of courage, determination, and the power of love, would open up an astonishing new life for one extraordinary young man - and touch the hearts of millions.

Eleven seconds was all it took. Eleven seconds to stop cold a shining career scarcely before it had take off on the ice. Travis Roy was a promising 20-year-old hockey star. Then moments into his first collegiate game as a Boston University freshman, a freak accident drove Travis into the boards. A cracked fourth vertebra left him paralyzed from the neck down.

That fateful October night in 1995 signaled the death of one dream - but also the eventual rebirth of a special kind of hope. For, though imprisoned for months in a hospital bed, then confined to a wheelchair, Travis gradually found the grit and the will to reclaim for himself a fulfilling and productive life.

From the very start of his ordeal, Travis enjoyed the support of a close-knit family; a legion of friends; his coach, Jack Parker; and his girlfriend Maija, who, despite the crippling effects of his injury never wavered in her devotion to his recovery and well-being. Ultimately, as his struggle became national news, an entire country became his fan club - cheering him on as he adjusted to daily life and rooting for him when he established the Travis Roy Foundation, which is dedicated to research and one-on-one assistance for spinal injury cases.

(Travis Roy's story) is a story about America's love affair with sports and the people who embrace its never-die spirit. Most of all, it is the story of one young man who surrendered to no limits and defied all odds, both before and after the tragedy that ended his game. --E.M. Swift in Eleven Seconds

"NHL All-Star Tom Poti of the NY Rangers, Buffalo Sabres forward Chris Drury & NHL veteran Ted Drury with Travis"

Email Travis at <>

Comments about anything?

Thomas R. Wolf, Jr. <>