Sometimes the steady diet of bad news that streams in via radio, TV and Internet can be really discouraging. The news cycle has been especially grim recently, causing me to worry about the state of the world.
Then, I attended an event at North House Folk School that restored my faith in the human race and gave me good hope for the future. The event was watching 11-year-old Will Surbaugh attempt to do 500 pushups in an hour. He did it, and then some, but you need to hear the whole story to understand why it was such an inspiring event.
Will is the son of Kate and Steve Surbaugh, who live outside of Grand Marais and own Cascade Vacation Rentals in Tofte. Last spring, Will informed his parents that he would like to ski on the downhill ski team at Lutsen Mountains this winter. Good parents that they are, Kate and Steve told Will that he could be on the team, but he had to earn enough money over the summer to defray at least half of the cost, including the expensive equipment that’s required for competitive downhill skiing.
Will started a firewood business, worked hard and earned an impressive amount of money over the summer. His parents then explained to him that philanthropy is a core value of the Surbaugh family, and Will was expected to donate 10% of his earnings to a charity of his own choosing.
Will decided to support a non-profit called “The Mission Continues.” They award six-month community service fellowships to post-9/11 veterans who then use their skills and discipline to serve a community project that addresses educational, environmental or social issues. This takes advantage of the veterans’ training to build community, while giving them a good path to reconnecting with civilian life. At the conclusion of the fellowship, each veteran is expected to do one of three things: be employed full time, pursue higher education, or commit themselves to a permanent role of community service.
Will cheerfully sent off his donation and was surprised to be contacted by the organization and invited to their annual meeting and celebration in Washington, D.C. The Mission Continues leaders were moved by receiving a generous donation from such a young philanthropist and wanted Will to be a part of celebrating the success of the program. Will and Steve traveled to D.C. and Will was asked to introduce the organization’s executive director - on stage - in front of 600 people.
Inspired by his experience in D.C., Will committed to organizing a Mission Continues fundraising event in Cook County, with an ambitious goal of raising $10,000. Will and his dad were discussing what kind of event he could organize, and Steve suggested that Will think about some kind of physical activity that would raise money through pledges. Will thought for a minute and then said he reckoned he could do 500 pushups in an hour. Will had never done that many pushups, but he calculated that it was feasible and his plans fell into place.
That’s how I found myself at North House recently watching Will Surbaugh doing pushups. Will did 10 pushups every minute, which only takes him about 10 seconds. He would rest for the rest of the minute, then click off 10 more. Fitness expert Greg Nichols was the official timer and counter.
More than a just a fundraising event, it turned into a community effort, with a silent auction, bake sale, live music, wood fired pizza and lots of excitement. As Will burned through his pushups, a number of people, of all ages, joined him in doing a few, or a few hundred, pushups. Although he did slow down a bit by the end, Will easily did the 500 pushups. In fact, he completed 638 pushups in the allotted hour. But more importantly, he easily exceeded his fundraising goal of $10,000. You can see him do it on YouTube.
Will is a modest kid and takes his accomplishment very much in stride. But I couldn’t help but be inspired by his commitment. He was modeling leadership, physical fitness, health, community service, philanthropy, family and fun for everyone. These are all values that contribute to what is good in life all the time, but it’s particularly nice to think about them at this time of year and at this point in history. Will and his friends give me great hope for the future.
Airdate: December 27, 2012