The subjects of most profiles are obvious choices. Political honchos, entertainers, sports stars and business chieftains are the usual suspects. That’s why it’s especially pleasing to read stories about interesting people who rarely stand in the limelight. The reporters of the following stories successfully kept their eyes and ears open so they could discover these everyday people doing amazing things.
In “He’s the mowing mailman,” Lane DeGregory of the St. Petersburg Times introduces us to letter carrier Eric Wills, who discovers that the elderly people on his route need some help. Here’s the turning point:
The mailman didn’t know much about Jack, except that he was old and seldom got out. A frail-looking girlfriend who didn’t seem to speak English lived with him.
For weeks, the mailman struggled through the thicket, silently cursing the man who wouldn’t mow his yard. One day, he heard a voice. His conscience? God?
Someone should mow that yard!
With a simple yet revealing lede, Haley Edwards of the Seattle Times presents the main characters in “For classmates fighting cancer, life isn’t over — just different”:
Three 12-year-old girls stand in the hallway outside their seventh-grade classroom. They slouch against the wall like James Dean in triplicate, playing with their plastic jewelry and rolling their eyes. They pretend to be all grown up, but their guileless, hiccuping laughter betrays them: They’re all still kids. They’re all preteen girls. They’re also all cancer patients.
Edwards does a nice job throughout this heartening story, but especially memorable are the passages where she draws out the girls’ inner thoughts, in their own voices.
In “The Last Resort,” Michael Leahy of the Washington Post tells how Clayton Beaver, a 40-year-old Hawaiian struggling to support his family, decided to join the Army. Beaver isn’t sure he can survive boot camp, but he says he is determined to succeed. Here’s a scene between Beaver and Army recruiter Sgt. Steve Thomas:
Thomas pats Beaver on the arm: “Do well. Make us proud.” He leans toward the recruit. “If you ever feel like quitting, don’t. Especially the first two weeks of training; it can be hard. Find your why. Remember why you’re doing this. Some people think of quitting early.”
“I won’t,” Beaver says firmly. But, at that moment, he will acknowledge later, he is wondering why he is doing this.
“Pam’s story,” by Mary K. Reinhart of Arizona’s East Valley Tribune, is a compelling tale of survival about a bipolar mother and son. When the son, Zack, asks his mother, Pam, to join him in a suicide pact, Pam sees it as the only way to end their pain.
“Mom, let’s kill ourselves,” he suggested, grinning from ear to ear.
He had tried so many times before. In fact, the boy had been trying to end his life for most of it. He’d put ropes around his neck, cut himself with knives, leaped from moving cars and nearly threw himself off the roof of a parking garage at Fiesta Mall.
His mother kept a blue suit handy for his funeral, fully expecting him to one day succeed, like his 14-year-old cousin before him, just a few months earlier.
The second half of the series focuses on the aftermath, in which their medications are changed and they work to rebuild their lives.
Boxer Kelly Pavlik gets plenty of attention in the ring, but Richard Hoffer of Sports Illustrated shines a spotlight on this champion’s unglamorous life in his hometown. Hoffer’s “Forged to Fight” weaves Pavlik’s story with that of Youngstown, Ohio, and the gyms where he learned to box:
In the Ironman, where Pavlik shares his training with a few fellow survivors, the implements of exercise are arrayed pretty much the way the valley is organized, as so much salvage. There are lengths of heavy chain, railroad ties, a fire hose, rope, hunks of rock and, instead of a shiny Cybex machine, a row of construction-equipment tires. One of Pavlik’s trainers here, Paul Dunleavy, is preparing to run a marathon, if this helps explain anything, by running through town with a log on his back. sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2008/writers/richard_hoffer/02/06/pavlik0211/index.html