It is said that some people are born to greatness but that others have it thrust upon them. This is certainly true of those who generally have the power to do something. But how often does the ordinary person (or pet) rise to the occasion to save a life or beat the odds to achieve something important? How often can the ordinary become the extraordinary and be proclaimed a hero because of it? Here are ten noteworthy examples of otherwise ordinary people rising to greatness.
1. Oskar Schindler
German industrialist under the Nazi Regime, womaniser, heavy drinker and profiteer was the most unlikely hero of World War II ‘ but a hero he is and was proclaimed in the state of Israel to be a truly righteous person. Why? Through his actions, he saved the lives of over 1,200 Jews by employing them in his factories in Poland and the Czech Republic. He pulled strings, bribed and called in every favour he had built up to save ‘his’ Jews from the gas chamber, even switching production at his factories to save it from closure and dispersing his workers.
2. Bob Geldof
Before 1984, Geldof was the little-known lead singer of the 1970s band The Boomtown Rats. Yet he rose to fame in the early 1980s when he became politically active in raising awareness of the various famines of Africa. In 1984 he, along with singer-songwriter Midge Ure, formed the charity Band Aid. They went on to write and produce the biggest selling charity song of all time ‘ Do They Know It’s Christmas? Realising that this was not enough, Geldof went on to organise ‘Live Aid’, then the world’s biggest single charity music event.
3. Pickles the Dog
The real hero of the 1966 FIFA World Cup, the mixed breed Collie dog shot to fame several months before the event when he found the Jules Rimet Trophy that had been stolen from Westminster Hall. His owner was given a reward of Â£6000 and after England won the trophy, both owner and dog were invited to the winner’s celebration banquet. He died in 1967 and his lead is now in the national Football museum.
4. Jamaican Bobsleigh Team
Eyebrows were raised when hearing that Jamaica was to enter a team into the bobsleigh events of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary. They were the first team from that country in any event in the history of the Winter Games. A film was made about their exploits but far from facing resistance and racism as portrayed in the film, the world took the Jamaicans to their hearts. A horrific breakdown of their sleigh meant no Disney fairy tale ending, but they became heroes of the competition due to the underdog status.
5. Zanjeer the Labrador
The second animal on this list is another dog. Zanjeer worked for the Mumbai Bomb Squad. In his career he found an eye-opening 3,300kgs of explosives, hundreds of detonation devices, hand grenades and thousands of rounds of ammunition. His moment of glory was at the 1993 Mumbai attacks. We cannot estimate how many lives he saved but it is believed to be in the thousands. Zanjeer eventually succumbed to bone cancer in the year 2000 and was buried will full Police honours.
6. Chesley Sullenberger
It was a routine take off from the runway at LaGuardia Airport in January 2009 when just minutes into the flight, the aircraft experienced a severe birdstrike. Sullenberger, the aircraft’s pilot reacted calmly to the lost engines and immediately set about ditching his aircraft. But there was one problem: above Manhattan there is nowhere to go so he took the decision to ditch it in the Hudson River. All passengers made it off safely and the event is now referred to as ‘The Miracle on the Hudson’ for the professionalism of the staff and the quick thinking of its pilot.
7. Kole Devisscher
A 16 year old boy from Manitoba, Canada was driving one night when he saw a figure struggling by the lake. On investigation it turned out to be a 10 year old boy. Wasting no time, Devisscher braved losing his truck and his own life on the thin ice to haul the boy to safety. He was later given a medal for his quick thinking, something that he described as ‘pretty awesome’.
8. Steve Hart
April 1989 will live in the hearts of supporters of Liverpool Football Club forever and especially for fans who were present on that dreadful day in which over 90 fans were crushed to death. After escaping from the crush, Hart, instead of seeking medical attention in case of injuries he may have sustained, chose instead to return to the crush and assist others to escape. Hart was identified using advertising boards to carry seriously injured supporters from the stand to the waiting ambulances.
9. Little Ships
If there was ever a better story of wartime bravery, it was of the strategic withdrawal of allied forces at the Dunkirk evacuation. The fleet ‘ that was largely made up of fishing boats and merchant Navy – braved attacks from the German Navy, especially the deadly U-boats to withdraw as many personnel from France as possible. Churchill would later praise the event as a ‘miracle of deliverance’ after a disastrous campaign. Over 330,000 troops were evacuated.
10. Aryanna Rath
Aryanna Rath was just four years old when she performed her act of courage. It was a cold night in rural Oregon when, as passengers in the car, their mother (the driver) fell asleep at the wheel. Due to the remoteness of their location, they would not be found for several hours. The mother died on impact; Aryanna seemed to have suffered no injuries but her two year old sister was visibly hurt. The four year old dragged the girl out of the car and wrapped them both in a blanket until help came.
It is sometimes said that people are too insular and selfish; perhaps to a certain degree this is true in our ordinary lives. But when our backs are against the walls we react without thought for our own safety, we shove aside our own panic to save the life of another. Animals too, not always conscious of the danger to themselves risk their lives to save family members ‘ or become famous through acts of chance.