Raising Heroes—from sports fields to battlefields

Submitted by Kay Helbling

September 25, 2008



In memory of David Steele, an Ashland rugby player, and the other eight men who lived their lives with honor and lost their lives with courage..


You haul them off to football in the fall, wrestling in the winter and rugby in the spring. With families of five children, it may mean seeing only half of one game and the other half of another. If you are the “snack mom” for the day, you need to be there for the whole game, which means dad needs to cover the bases on the other “athletes”.


All sounds chaotic but all sounds so familiar to the Oregon mom who loves her kids and the sports they love to play. But, she often finds herself wondering whether so much time “on the field” is really giving them the foundations they need in life. Then, you fast forward ten years and find these souls of sweat and determination, blood and grit, become the heroes of tomorrow.


You hear the coaches lecture the players about discipline and team play—to “dig deep” and to “give more of themselves than they knew they had”. You think, great words to apply to life, but you can’t really picture the moment when words meet life. Then, life hits you square in the face. ___________________________

Friends, sons & daughters going off to war requiring the determination, grit and courage that can’t be taught in a book. Friends, sons & daughters joining the crew of a firefighting squad or a police force facing the dangers of drug busts gone bad, fires turning with the wind or downed helicopters. Lives of men & women of unmistakable courage lost forever.


For years I’d watch my sons wrestle and play rugby and was amazed at the spirit and fight they displayed on the mats and in the pitch. Equally, I was amazed at the character and camaraderie they showed for their teammates and their opponents. A brotherhood that can only be understood by fighting side by side and a respect that is earned. As Shakespeare said, “He who sheds his blood with me today shall forever be my brother.”


Last fall, my son joined the OSU rugby team and with each young man I met I was more and more amazed at their great hearts and great spirits. So, it was with little surprise that we found that many were called away to serve our country in Iraq or South Africa. I couldn’t imagine a tougher bunch to defend us.


This summer many OSU rugby players rejoined their firefighting crews to battle the forest fires across Oregon and California. Who better to fight until the last blaze is gone than the men who battle fearless on the rugby pitch?


Then, time stopped, when we heard about the helicopter crash that was transporting fire crews out of the Iron Complex fire. Nine lives were lost. Two of our OSU rugby men were fighting that fire. We didn’t know if they were among the casualties. When men are on a fire, communication is lost. Throughout the night we just had to wait and pray for everyone’s safety. In the morning word came they were safe. They hadn’t been on the helicopter, but a fellow rugby player from southern Oregon was. He didn’t play for OSU, but he was their brother, as were all the men on the crew.


What heroes all these young men and women are who fight the fires and the crime and the battles that keep us all safe. Where did they get the kind of character and grit and spirit and courage to face these dangers? It makes me wonder about those years on their own “fields of battle” in the sports they played when you’d hear the coaches call for mental toughness, team play, courage and discipline.


Next time your kid heads off to practice at yet another sport, let them know you are proud of the hard work they are doing and the character they display. When they are grown you will see that character displayed in the realities of life. And, the next time you find he/she is being coached by someone who displays character and teaches toughness, shake their hand. Like you, they are building heroes.


Kay was an insurance adjuster and executive for 15 years, a small business owner and a teacher for 10. But, her most fulfilling work has been as a mother of her two boys. She is now looking forward to an empty nest this fall with her best friend—her husband.


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