Higher Living Reflections

JK: One Face of Epic Courage

Read “Former Paralympic Coach Comes ‘Full Circle’ After Losing a Leg”

After watching fellow skiers on sit-skis screaming down the mountain with abandon over the decades, as awe-inspiring as it continues to be, I am no longer taken aback when I witness one. Unless it is of an old friend and teacher colleague who had “died” months prior.

I still recall the time years ago when JK—Jon Kreamelmeyer—relayed a tale about a professional situation in which we had a common stake. “I told her,” he said, “‘It is what it is, so move on.’” The statement seems trite in that it has become part of our everyday language, but for some it can encapsulate a life philosophy about their preference not to grouse about or bemoan a challenging situation but instead to accept the reality of it and to move to dealing with it. So when I was able to spend some time with JK once he was in recovery mode and looking into getting fitted with a prosthesis to replace the leg that had to be amputated, I was not surprised at his calm demeanor about it. It was where it was, and he is who he is. But I still wonder after months of reflection if I could or want to do as he did: Go on with only one leg.

I won’t go into detail about his epic journey from doing training intervals on Mt. Royal in Frisco, Colorado in August of 2021 to this point because it is vividly detailed in a New York Times human-interest piece, which you read by clicking here. Nor will I go on about the incredible courage, fortitude, and determined strength of will he exhibits. But I will expound on how JK and countless others—amputees, para- and quadriplegics, those dealing with debilitating diseases—go on. They are the Elites.

Like JK, I loved and continue to love skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, running, and more. But the comparison stops there, for while JK was major league, I wasn’t even at the AAA level. When I watch men and women perform at the level of JK and his peers, I stand in awe with admiration. For among them are not necessarily the ones one would think might excel given their ages, body types, discipline, etc. Rather, they are the ones that if you hadn’t known of their fetes, you would not likely think, “Oh, there goes an elite athlete.”  

In addition to their modeling of a never-quit, you-can-do-it attitude, the other aspect of their being—perhaps the more important one—is their self-effacing perspective, kindness, and generosity. They compete only against one person: him or herself, to be the best they can be. Far from the flat, one-dimensional character of the I-Am-Great, watch-me types, they are more than rounded. They are spherical, globes unto themselves. They are supportive, encouraging, and caring of others. They easily move from coaching and cheering for others who are dealing with their own plight with which to deal to being coached and cheered for.

Human courage is exhibited in infinite ways. For those with mental and major physical disabilities, it can be demonstrated by simply getting out of bed and facing the day. For others, it is by heroically fighting against murderous invaders who seek to take over their country and wreak as much havoc, death, and destruction as they can. And there are those faced with the choice of fighting for their life knowing that if they survive, it will mean living one with permanent disablement.

 In an introductory video to my English I Epic Hero unit, Charlton Heston—aka Moses and Ben-Hur—talked about the differences between superheroes and epic heroes. He said the primary characteristic that separates them is that the superhero cannot die, so is therefore unsatisfactory. The epic hero, on the other hand, is a mere mortal we can identify with. He/she not only can die but also faces that harsh reality but for one reason or another defies death.

“The epic hero,” Heston said, “never gives up, never, never gives up.”

When JK and I talked, he told me of a paralympic he had coached who would, in a twist of fate, now become his coach. His former mentee, now his mentor, told JK that when he was at the point of deciding whether it was worth fighting for his life, he wasn’t doing it for himself. Rather, he was doing it for those he loved, his wife and children foremost.

In a separate essay I will include in Volume II of Food for Thought Essays on Mind and Spirit, I will explore in-depth the concept of the hero, from everyday to epic. It is important because the idea is not merely grist for myths, legends, and fables. It has real life-and-death meaning.

I believe I speak for all when I say we’re glad mild-mannered, cool-under pressure, and never-give-up JK made the call to stick around for a while longer. That’s an essence of an epic hero. As Mr. Heston/Moses/Ben-Hur said, they never, never give up.

Rock on, old friend!

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  • Patty
    March 25, 2022 at 2:54 am

    Love the read! And just like in everyday life, we see people and not know what’s behind their actions. Why were they driving fast? Emergency to rush to? An old friend to catch up with? Getting fast away from work? And looking at your skiers, they’re beautiful and graceful like dancers, but wow the story behind this chapter in their life. Makes ya think.
    “Yes you can”
    Love this. You rock on also!