June 27, 2011

Homeless to Harvard Liz Murray

I wanted to tell you this week about a young woman who took a bad situation and succeeded anyway.  Her name is Liz Murray, and she went from homeless to graduating from Harvard University!  Pretty amazing, eh?  It wasn’t easy at all.  It took lots of hard work and help from people who could see her determination.  But it all paid off in the end.

Liz was born to drug-addicted parents in New York City.  She and her older sister had to take care of themselves because their parents were too busy with their drug addictions.  Her dad sat in front of a TV all day, while her mom wandered around town or slept.  You can imagine how filthy their apartment was, with no one cleaning it. Liz went to school to get one good meal a day because there was no food at home.  Living in filth meant that Liz would get sick and miss a lot of school.  She smelled bad, and people teased her.  She wore dirty clothes and her hair was greasy and messy.  

Things got worse when her family became homeless when she was 15 years old.  Liz had nowhere to live.  Liz slept in stairwells of other apartments or public bathrooms.  She had to leave before anyone saw her.  She said, “Even though I had lost my family and was carrying around nothing more than some music, a picture of my mother, a few articles of clothing and some [stolen] food… I realized there was a place I wanted to be, and my goals guided my daily actions as I took steps to get myself there.  Regardless of what happened, there was peace in that.”

Since she had missed so much school, she had been kicked out.  But she wanted to go to school really badly.  She knew that to get out of her situation, she needed a good education.  She spent her mornings walking to many different schools and asked if they’d allow her to enroll.  But her absences on her school records kept catching up with her, and they’d tell her no.  She finally found a school that would accept her, the Humanities Preparatory Academy; and a homeless shelter where she could live called ‘the Door.’  She worked hard and caught up in school.  And then she set her sights on Harvard.

Liz had spent two years earning A’s in her high school classes while living in the homeless shelter.  The New York Times newspaper told her story, and people started offering to help her.  Harvard admitted her on the basis of her good grades and test scores, and scholarships followed that enabled her to attend.  She had to drop out for a time to take care of her sick father, but came back when she could.  She graduated from Harvard in June 2009.  She now serves on the board of directors of the ‘Door’ homeless shelter, and speaks motivationally.  And she wants to go back to Harvard for more education, a doctorate in clinical psychology, so she can counsel people.

She said, “America has never owed me anything more than a real and solid chance to work for my dreams.  It has delivered on this promise… [My dreams] might have proved impossible had I not lived in a country where dreams still come true.  And at the heart of it all was my willingness to be grateful for the things that I already have rather than dwelling on what I don’t.”  

For more information, see Wikipedia “Liz Murray.”
Liz Murray, “Freedom From Want.”  Readers Digest March 2011.

June 20, 2011

Youngest Pilot Bobby Bradley

Today’s story is a bit controversial.  Readers of his story think it’s just over-ambitious parents performing a stunt.  But I think we can learn some things about reaching goals from it.

Bobby Bradley is 9 years old, and just piloted a hot air balloon all by himself!  That sets all kinds of records for amateur flying, and shows how families can band together to help each other reach their goals.    

His parents are both hot air balloon pilots, who have taken Bobby on lots of rides.  When he was just 3 years old, he’d peel his parent’s fingers off of the controls to try to fly the balloon himself.  With that  interest, his parents started to train him to do just that.  After logging 30+ hours piloting the aircraft with an instructor onboard, he was ready to go solo.  

But Aviation laws say that pilots must be 16 to get a pilot’s license.  Because Bobby was only 9, the family looked for a way to let him fly solo some other way.  They learned that if he was piloting a smaller aircraft, he wasn’t bound to these strict rules.  So his Grandma sewed him a smaller balloon and the family found a smaller engine.  They built him a Hot Air balloon that met the size limits to be exempt from these regulations because it’s considered an ‘ultra light aircraft.’  

On Saturday, June 4, 2011, Bobby took off shortly after 7 am along with three other balloons.  (One was specifically designated to follow Bobby and make sure he was safe.)  After 26 minutes in the air, Bobby landed in his designated spot along a remote dirt road, just as he had been instructed.  He said, “I didn’t want to land.  I wanted to keep going.  It’s fun out there.”  His friends doused him in non-alcoholic champagne and silly string as he landed.  

Kids like Bobby, with a families’ support, can do amazing things.  It’s a great blessing to have a supportive family.

Calsuing, Jeri.  Associated Press. “New Mexico boy, 9, becomes youngest to solo in balloon”  Gwinnett Daily Post Sunday June 5, 2011, page 2A.

June 13, 2011

Baseball Great Killebrew

This week’s story is about a man who liked to visit kids in hospitals.  His name was Harmon Killebrew.  He was a famous baseball player, famous for how many home runs he hit over his career and how far so many of them flew.  When I learned about him, I knew I wanted to tell you about him.

Harmon was discovered in a semi professional baseball diamond, batting .847 as a 17 year old kid.  No one knows why he was such a good hitter, but I think it was from his upbringing.  He worked on his family farm hauling 10 gallon milk buckets around, which weighed 95 pounds each.  Harmon was signed on with the Washington Senators team, but became famous while playing for the Minnesota Twins.  Over the course of his career, he hit 573 homers, earning him the nickname ‘Killer.’  That rivals Babe Ruth’s record.  

But what makes Harmon remarkable is how gentle and kind he was. Among rough baseball players who smoked, drank, and behaved badly, Harmon was kind and stayed out of trouble.  Once a reporter asked him what he did for fun while all the other players were our carousing and he replied, “Well, I guess I like to do the dishes.”(Heilman)  He got married and had a family.  When an umpire made a call against him, Harmon would turn and tell him he made a good call.  No other player ever did anything that nice.  And he spent his free time visiting sick kids in hospitals when he toured distant cities.  

One such visit made the papers, so I could read about it.  A kid named Johnny Guirney was recovering from serious burns in a hospital in New York City in May 1964.  Johnny was so excited to see Harmon Killebrew walk through his hospital room door, and was even happier when Harmon offered him an autographed baseball.  He pulled out his mitt from under his pillow and asked Harmon to sign it too.  Johnny told Harmon he played shortstop on his little league equivalent team, and asked Harmon to hit a homer for him.  Harmon said he’d try that night in the game against the Yankees.  But before he left, Harmon told Johnny to get better quickly and if he did, Harmon would bring him to their next game in New York and introduce him to the team.  

Johnny did recover, and Harmon brought him to the game in New York on Sept 12, 1964.  This photo was taken at the game.  Johnny, now 55, said, “That hospital visit 47 years ago lifted my spirits. I watched the whole game from my hospital bed. I was shocked when Killebrew made good on his two-home run call.  He was a great ballplayer but a greater human being."  (Walsh)
The Minnesota Twins President David St. Peter recently said, “No individual has ever meant more to the Minnesota Twins organization and millions of fans across Twins Territory than Harmon Killebrew. Harmon will long be remembered as one of the most prolific home run hitters in the history of the game and the leader of a group of players who helped lay the foundation for the long-term success of the Twins franchise and Major League Baseball in the Upper Midwest. However, more importantly Harmon's legacy will be the class, dignity and humility he demonstrated each and every day as a Hall of Fame-quality husband, father, friend, teammate and man.”  (Star Tribune)
“Harmon had I don’t know how many home runs,” former home run king Hank Aaron said. “In his case, really, in all fairness to him, he was No. 1 really. He hit 1,000 home runs because he did so many great things off the field. That’s what counts, it’s not how you play the game, it’s how you play it afterward.”  (Ultimate Astros)
Now for the funny story about another special feat—Harmon hit a homerun right to one of his kids, who caught it barehanded!  Harmon and his wife had 5 kids and they often came to his games.  They sat in a specific place each game, with the other players’ families.  It was near the dugout, not out in the stands.  So how did Harmon’s son Ken catch his 498th homer?  That’s what Harmon wanted to know when the cameras panned over to see his 13 year old son Ken  holding up the ball, beaming, over in far left field.  
Ken explained, “I still have [the ball.  My Dad] was kind of ticked off. He wanted to know what I was doing out there.  We weren't allowed to have cake and candy and ice cream and sugar and pop and stuff. Mom and Dad were real strict about our diet. It was all health food — whole-wheat this, whole-wheat that, organic everything. We had a garden.  So I was out there (in the left-field stands) pigging out on Frosty Malts and hot dogs, so nobody could tell on me."  (Perry)
I think that is a really funny story.  So Ken was being sneaky and his Dad still found out because of his home run!  I can’t help but wonder about this coincidence.  I don’t think any other child of a player caught his father’s home run while in the stands as a fan.  Perhaps Heavenly Father had a good laugh at the idea of getting Ken in trouble with his father by sending this home run straight to him.  If so, Heavenly Father has a great sense of humor.  And it would also remind us that He is acutely aware of everything that is happening around us.    

Harmon Killebrew was a great man.  Although he could have turned out like many professional athletes—spoiled, selfish and wild—he was gentle, humble and kind-hearted.   Scott remembers watching him play and that he was always a good role model.  The difference must have been the gospel of Jesus Christ, which taught Harmon how to live a good life and be happy. 


 “Harmon Killebrew.”  Wikipedia 17 Aug 2012: n. page. web. 21 Aug 2012.

Heilman, Barbara.  “Out of the Park on a Half Swing.”  Sports Illustrated 8 Apr 1963: n. pag. web. 13 June 2011. 

Perry, Dwight. “Buy me some Cracker Jack, Just Don’t Tell my Dad.” The Seattle Times. 21 May 2011: n. pag. web. 13 June 2011.

"Quotes about the Death of Twins Great Harmon Killebrew." Star Tribune 17 May 2011: n. pag. web. 13 June 2011.

“Twins Say One Last Goodbye to Harmon Killebrew.”  Ultimate Astros 26 May 2011: n. pag. web. 13 June 2011. 

Walsh, Paul.  “The day Killebrew Hit Homers for Ailing Boy.” Minneapolis Star Tribune 20 May 2011:  n. pag. web. 13 June 2011. 

June 6, 2011

Young Triathlete Spencer Carries Friend Along

This is Jeremy.  This story is about two boys who did the unthinkable.  One of them, Spencer Zimmerman, was a runner by the time he was 8 years old and when he was nine, he got first place in the 19 and under category for a triathlon. A triathlon is a race consisting of a 400-meter swim, 12-mile Bike ride, and a 5k run. Recently, Spencer was ordained as President of the Deacons Quorum in his ward and he felt a desire to watch over and take care of the members of his quorum. Dayton Hayward, also 13, is a friend of his in the quorum but he has cerebral palsy. The condition does not allow him to move his own muscles actively.

               Spencer had a great respect for Dayton. He could feel the spirit about him. The triathlete learned later that Dayton had a great love for the wind in his face. This fact, along with others, helped Spencer make the decision to be Dayton’s metaphorical legs in a triathlon.

               The parents in both families are very surprised and proud of this decision and are so glad for this opportunity. The Hayward’s try to bring Dayton on many activities like hunting, camping and boating but a triathlon is a whole new experience. “It’s a pay day as a parent to see your child make a decision that you had nothing to do with,” says Shelly Zimmerman (mom of Spencer), “that he did on his own.” 

By, Jeremy 

From information found at: