by Matt from Fredericksburg
What makes a hero? Is it the choices he makes? Is it the choices he had? The sacrifices he made? Many people overlook the fact that humans aren't the only ones who have risked their lives to help others. My personal hero was born in 1919 and is known as the hero of Alaska. His name was Balto.
|Balto with Gunner Kaassen ( (Brown Brothers) Wikipedia)
In 1925 doctors in Alaska discovered that a sudden outbreak of diphtheria was going to wipe out all the children in Nome. The problem was that the only medicine available to stop the outbreak was in Anchorage. Due to the harsh weather conditions, the aircraft they were going to use to transport the serum was shut down for winter. The best chance they had to transport the medicine was by sled dog.
The race began and the sled dog teams began to pass the serum down to Nome. The medicine finally reached Gunner Kaassen and Balto who was his lead dog. Balto lead them across fifty three miles of treacherous land in intense weather conditions. The temperature never rose above negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Kaassen explained that at one point, the blizzards got so intense he could not see the trail that led to Nome. He thought it would be best to find a safe spot and rest for the night and hope the weather would be better the next day, but Balto led on not rethinking once what direction to go. Balto returned them back to Nome in under 20 hours, with a big smile across his face.
Balto lived in fame for the rest of his life. He was known as the hero of Alaska. Not ten months after Balto and Gunner Kaassen returned to Nome with the medicine, a statue was built in New York's Central Park honoring Balto. In front of the statue there is a plaque that bears the inscription, "Dedicated to the indomitable spirit of the sled dogs that relayed antitoxin six hundred miles over rough ice, across treacherous waters, through Arctic blizzards from Nenana to the relief of stricken Nome in the winter of 1925." "Endurance, Fidelity, Intelligence"
|Balto and his sled team arrived at Nome with serum (Mundivaganti)
Balto is my hero not only because he used his intelligence, courage, and endurance to lead his sled team, but also because of the story behind his fame and fortune. Balto was born a Siberian husky and was named after the famous explorer Samuel Balto. He wasn't the first pick to be Gunner Kaassen's lead dog. Balto was smaller than most sled dogs and was expected to fail. He is my hero because, though people doubted him, he ran with all his heart and refused to fail his team, his musher, or the people of Nome. Some may argue that he is no hero because he didn't make any of his own choices, that he was simply following commands. My argument is that what makes some heroes is the ability to listen and do what others tell you even if when things seem hopeless or impossible.
The most disturbing part of Balto's life is how he was treated afterward. He was not treated as a hero he was treated as if he was a toy. He and his team were put on show and travelled around the United States showing the country the heroes of Alaska. Then, as he got older he was placed in the Cleveland Zoo and remained there until he died March 14, 1933. Once he passed away his body was mounted by a taxidermist and remains at the Cleveland Natural Museum of History. These things disturb me because it shows that we didn't have the respect for Balto like we have respect for heroes that are human. We thought it would be best to place him in a Zoo where he had very little human contact and is on display. We never thought about what might make him happy, only what would raise the most money. But it is always said that even when he was in the zoo or being presented around the country a smile still remained on his face.
Some may laugh that I chose a dog as my hero, but over the years I have thought of Balto when I've been the "underdog." When I played basketball on a Japanese team and didn't fit in or there was a huge language barrier. Plus he always gave me confidence when I was considered too small or young to succeed, for example when I was point guard as an 8th grader on a varsity team. Thinking of Balto's story made me feel motivated and strong. It was my favorite movie when I was young. I must have watched it a thousand times. When my family visited New York, we tromped through Central Park until dark looking for his statue. People find motivation and confidence in themselves from different things. I found mine in Balto.