Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. There are war heroes, guitar heroes, super heroes and every day heroes. But there is one hero from my childhood who defies categorization-and he called himself Evel Knievel. Knievel was an every- day hero, who was indestructible like a super hero, spoke in patriotic fervor like a war hero and had more fans than a guitar hero.
For those not familiar with Evel Knievel, he was an action figure come to life who raced his 1000 pound motorcycle up ramps at ninety miles per hour and leaped it over long lines of trucks, pits of cobras and pools of sharks. Children of the late 60s and early 70s were riveted by this man. And Knievel spoke to them in motivational speeches that warned them to keep off drugs and to always listen to their parents.
Unlike today's stuntmen, there was little or no math involved in Knievel's daring feats. He would size up the distance, make a few estimates, and-think positive. He crashed very many times. In fact, some believe his popularity grew more from his failures than from his successes. In deed, his two most famous stunts, the jumps over the fountain at Caesars Palace and Snake River Canyon - were both disasters. Knieval very nearly killed himself on numerous occasions. He underwent major surgery thirteen times, and broke nearly forty bones.
Some--many-might call such a man foolish. But when considering Knievel's profession one should remember that about the only job in Butte Montana-Knievel's hometown-was the very dangerous occupation of coal mining. Knieval worked in those mines when he was young. For Knieval, there was either risking your neck for average pay or risking your neck for a treasure trove of cash and mass adulation.
And Knievel believed in the worth of risks themselves. Many admired the man simply for the fact that he was not afraid to take chances. And though Knievel took this ideal to extremes, the message was read loud and clear by children everywhere-don't be afraid-take chances in life.
At the height of his fame, Knievel traveled the country in a sixty-foot, custom made Kenworth truck with his named scrawled audaciously in red, white and blue along its side. Inside, Knieval sat in the lap of luxury. The vehicle was not unlike a Graceland on wheels, with zebra-skin rugs and enough technical gadgetry to make James Bond drool. Hanging above Knievel's plush leather chair was a plaque on which was written his favorite quote. It was from the poet Robert Frost, and it read, "The people I want to hear about are the people who take risks."
Copyright 2002 © Kevin Shortsleeve
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