For West End Yellow Jackets football coach Terrance Washington, practice at Russell Lee Park in Louisville, Kentucky on the night of September 12 seemed just like any other practice. Then, as he was putting the Mighty Mite Division team through its paces, he heard parents yelling that a two-year-old girl had just fallen 15 feet into a dark abandoned well 50 yards from the field.
"We were scared, we were screaming, we couldn't get it together," the little girl's cousin said later. "Fortunately . . . , Washington didn't hesitate."
The 46-year-old coach raced from the field, braced his arms and legs against the well's narrow walls and lowered himself to the bottom, careful not to fall down several feet on top of the toddler. He comforted the screaming girl by singing nursery rhymes together until help arrived. After more than an hour, firefighters lifted the pair to safety, the girl first, and then Washington about 15 minutes later. The girl was treated at a local hospital for bumps and bruises and then released. Washington was released the next afternoon, sore but otherwise ready to help the Yellow Jackets win the following day.
As parents applauded his efforts, the self-effacing Washington said afterwards, "I don't like being called a hero. It was a reaction. I did what I hope most would do."
Just waiting to be summoned
"It's hard to find a hero," the New York Times reported in February. I think that the Times got it wrong. "Those who say that we are in a time when there are no heroes just don't know where to look," said President Reagan in 1981, "You can see heroes every day." President Obama concurred in 2011: "Heroism is . . . all around us, just waiting to be summoned."
Someone once said that "a hero is an ordinary person who performs an ordinary task in an extraordinary situation." The statement fits a person like coach Terrance Washington. He is an ordinary citizen like the rest of us, but he rose to the occasion when extraordinary danger threatened a few yards away from the gridiron.
Why did Washington try to deflect attention by saying that he did nothing more than what others would have done? Stanford University professor Philip Zimbardo, who studies the psychology of heroism, says that modesty characterizes many men and women who win praise as heroes for generosity, courage or both. "Most heroes are ordinary people," says Professor Zimbardo, "and they tell us, ‘I'm nothing special; how could I not do what I did?'"
Perhaps a hero's modesty is itself heroic.
Sources: Emily Mieure. "Man Who Jumped in 15 Ft Hole to Save Toddler Speaks Out" (http://www.wdrb.com/story/23429297/man-who-jumped-in-15-ft-hole-to-save-...)(Sept. 13, 2013); Katie Bauer. "Heroic Coach Speaks Out After Saving Toddler" (http://www.wave3.com/story/23430000/heroic-coach-speaks-out-after-saving...)(Sept. 13, 2013); Erika Watts. "Louisville Football Coach Helps Save Child." (http://www.webpronews.com/louisville-football-coach-helps-save-child-201...)(Sept. 14, 2013); Mary Carmichael, The Making of a Hero, Newsweek, Dec. 29, 2009; First Inaugural Address of Ronald Reagan, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/reagan1.asp (Jan. 20, 1981); Barack Obama. "Heroism Is Here": Text of President's Speech at Tucson Memorial (http://www.nbcnews.com/id/41047381/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/t/obama-h...)(Jan. 12, 2011).