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My hero moment in sports struck early in life. I was about 13 when I approached the plate in the last inning with the bases loaded, two outs, and my team down by three. I smacked a hit over the left fielder and raced around the bases. As I slid into third, knowing we had tied the game, I saw the throw in get past the third baseman. I promptly jumped up and headed for home.

That was dumb. A decent throw would have gotten me easily. Luckily, it was offline. The catcher tried to grab it and swipe tag me. He missed the ball but got my face, literally knocking me on top of home to score the winning run (after we held them in the bottom of the inning). It was pretty exciting and what every ballplayer dreams of at the end of a game.

I was reminded of this while watching our Minnesota Golden Gophers and local hero Carlie Wagner in recent weeks. In a short stretch of time, we’ve been treated to Rachel Banham going off for a national record 60 points against Northwestern, knocking down a game-winning three-pointer against Iowa, and finally seeing our very own Carlie hit the winning shot against Ohio State.

What’s it like to be a hero? There are different kinds of heroes. When you hit the winning shot or knock in that winning run, that hero moment is there right now. In interviews after the Iowa game, Banham said that moment is just crazy, but it’s also something she’s practiced and dreamed about, even as a youngster shooting in her driveway. She’s become something of a national hero, getting featured by ESPN and tweeted at by Kobe Bryant.

Of course, we NRHEG folks were not shocked when Carlie hit that game-winner against a nationally-ranked team. After all, she’s Carlie! We saw her come up clutch time and again in high school, most memorably with her performance in the state championship game against Braham. I asked her what it felt like to be a hero in games like that.

“It was just so exhilarating and crazy because it was the #5 team in the country! It is definitely the best feeling ever and a moment I will never forget!” When asked about the difference between the Ohio State shot and the state championship game, Wagner replied, “The feeling actually was a little bit different for me just in that I made the shot at a higher level, the collegiate level.”

So you have heroes and then you have heroes. Carlie and Rachel are not just heroes based on individual games. They are heroes based on their body of work and also their status as role models. Because of ladies like them, there are countless young girls both in our area and across the state who will go out to their driveways this summer and practice the sideways fade and the drive and pull-up shots that won games.

But these same girls will also want to be like Carlie and Rachel in other ways. Both ladies exhibit decorum and class. They are not just great basketball players, but great people. And that’s what we want out of our heroes.

And then there are HEROES. It’s fine to admire and emulate sports stars, but the real heroes live among us and are easily accessible. Look at our volunteer firefighters in the area. We all hope the only time we have to interact with them is at social functions and out and about in the community. But we also know that they will risk their lives in case of a fire or accident and never expect a reward.

Our ambulance services follow along those lines. Again, we don’t really want to see these people when they are responding to a call, but we know we can count on them to do everything in their power to save lives. I’ve seen some of them in action at school in some scary situations, and their level of calm and professionalism makes me confident that if/when I need them, I’ll be in good hands.

Our local police are another source of heroes. While that’s certainly a paid position, it can’t be an easy choice to go down that career path. They can face life and death situations, even in small towns. Think of all the crime they have prevented, just by their presence. They, too, will be there whenever we need them, and we should appreciate all they do in service.

They are surely many other heroes that we know. Everyone has people to look up to and root on, from the sports fields and floors to professionals in many occupations who provide a beacon of hope and an example of what it takes to be at a high level. The best heroes are the ones who step up in crucial situations, even if they don’t always succeed. They don’t seek out the accolades, but are happy in the knowledge that they have made a difference. Thank you to all our heroes!

Word of the Week: This week’s word is affluenza, which means a lack of motivation and dissatisfaction, especially among young wealthy people, as in, “Luckily, affluenza did not strike the newly-drafted WNBA player, and she worked hard to live up to her paycheck.” Impress your friends and confuse your enemies!

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