By Neil Earle
A cape, a set of tights and a muscled form.
As a longtime Superman fan from those boyhood DC Comics days of the 1950s I am still a bit of a sucker for heroes, whether talking about the NHL and Wayne Gretzky or the Los Angeles Angels and Mike Trout.
Some people think we don’t need heroes but British journalist Henry Fairlie disagrees. Without heroes our purposes become less elevated, our striving becomes less fervent, our aspirations become weakened, Fairlie wrote some time back. He went on: Heroes stir us by example, saying we can do better, things aren’t necessarily settled. “We can do more.”
In the latest 2006 incarnation of Superman in the pop culture Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) tells the Man of Steel “I don’t think people need a superman, a hero.”
Later on, suspended high over Metropolis, Superman (Brandon Routh) tells Lois quite feelingly something like, “I can hear people every day. They need a Savior.”
Superman is a work of pop culture – one of its classic evocations. His filmed reappearances remind us that hero figures still sell. Something inside us will respond to tales where genuine goodness exists and where noble themes win out in the end.
Bill Moyers once asked the cultural critic Joseph Campbell a relevant question on his 1980s television series, “The Power of Myth”. In an almost unguarded response, Campbell answered candidly as to why the same stories keep repeating – tales of heroism and nobility, striving and self-sacrifice, trying to rescue the damsel, the city, the group. I am still surprised at his answer: “Because these are the only themes worth writing about.”
I’m a lucky man. I’m going to see a lot of heroes come to my town and just down the road.
You see, right now, my home city of Duarte, California, along with neighboring Azusa and Glendora are preparing to host 60 athletes from South Africa. They are part of 7000 athletes who will participate in the 2015 Special Olympics, an event running every two years since 1968. The real stars, the true heroes are the young participants who are not physically handicapped but in some way intellectually challenged. Yet they and their 3000 coaches will create the largest event ever hosted in Los Angeles and the biggest event to be held in North America this year, according to the numbers.
“177 countries are coming,” says Wendy Matthes who is Director of the Host Town project for the World Games. “This is a bigger event than the 1984 Olympics which involved 150 countries.”
Wendy is helping coordinate the involvement of dozens of Southern California cities from San Louis Obispo to San Diego. Each town hosts about 100 athletes each and helps them with accommodation, feeding and transportation. “There will be 25 sporting events to be hosted primarily at USC and UCLA but also other centers such as sailing off Long Beach and equestrian events elsewhere. For three days before July 25 our athletes will get to experience a taste of Southern California living in their various towns.” Former Duarte mayor Liz Reilly reminds us that Duarte will host the South Africans on July 23 and will tour City of Hope oncology center as well as sponsor a sock hop and typical food to get the feel of our region.”
They are going to love it and all Duarte is invited to turn out Wednesday July 25 when they show up in buses from Azusa Pacific University to the City of Hope just down the road.
Contact the Special Olympics web site for a close-up look at these bright and beautiful young people – true heroes coming to compete in venues that put them in the big leagues of athleticism. Norbert from Belgium says, “This travelling gives us a more open mind about people and places.” Mamoud Sardu is sure he can win a medal for Senegal. Eduardo de Souza from Brazil expects to be changed by the experience. Bill Shumard of Special Olympics believes in the “simple power of sports to change lives.” In a sense, Bill says, "this is what sports should be really all about, bringing people together and showing the best they can do.”
Look for it to be covered on your TV screens starting July 27. To see the look in those young people’s eyes – open, guileless, expectant – this reminds you of what true accomplishment and heroism is all about, people doing more than anyone could ever expect, youths pushing themselves to the limit and having fun and fellowship while doing it. These are Christian values. Saint Paul, no stranger to the games, wrote the following: “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).
There is a lot that is truly admirable about the Special Olympics. Let’s celebrate them.