EXCERPTS: NEWT AND JACKIE SHARE HOW THEY DREAM BIG:
As a young man, I planned on becoming a zoo director or a vertebrate paleontologist. Yet during one special weekend as a teenager, I learned a powerful lesson that sparked my dream of entering public office and becoming a leader of our nation.
It was 1958, I was fifteen years old, and we were living in Orléans, France. My father was a career soldier-an infantryman. He served his country in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. He understood that freedom is not free. During our time in France, my father took me to Verdun. That battlefield had been the largest and bloodiest on the western front in World War I. While there, we stayed with a friend of my father’s who had been drafted in World War II and sent to the Philippines, survived the Bataan Death March in 1942, and went on to spend three and a half years in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. During that weekend, between talking to my father’s friend and learning about Verdun, I was immersed in stories of the human sacrifices that were made for freedom throughout both world wars. I learned that the freedoms we now enjoy and take for granted were paid for in blood. This truth became very real to me during those three days at Verdun.
The lesson from history is that it is possible for bad leadership to result in the collapse of seemingly invulnerable societies. I was shaken by the realization that countries can disappear with remarkable speed when societies and their cultural values collide.
As an American, I believe everything we hold dear-our freedom, our prosperity, and our safety -is very fragile. During that summer at Verdun, my father taught me that we desperately need leaders who look beyond the present, who understand the seriousness of the threats we face, and who are willing to commit themselves to finding solutions worthy of our challenges. The ultimate fate of any free society rests with our elected political leadership, and I decided it was my duty to become one of those leaders. This became my goal, my mission, my dream. That lesson from Verdun never left me, and it was the reason I ran for office. I ran for Congress twice unsuccessfully, but I never gave up on my aspiration to serve the public because I remembered those who never gave up defending freedom with their lives. After two defeats I won election and achieved my dream of becoming a leader for America.
About 46 million adults and 300,000 children in America have been diagnosed with arthritis, the nation’s leading cause of disability. My sister, Kathy, is one of them.
More than twenty years ago, when she was in her twenties, Kathy was diagnosed with a particularly severe form of the disease, rheumatoid arthritis. For years she struggled to find the correct medication, regimen, and health plan. Just a few years ago, her joints were swollen, she could not lift her arms above her head, and she found her daily walks on the beach in Florida, where she lives, taxing. There were days when Kathy could not get out of bed without assistance. And days when she lay in her bed and wept from the pain. About six years ago, she started taking a new drug, which has arrested her disease and given her a new lease on life. By focusing on what she can control -strength, flexibility, nutrition, lifestyle, and working with a personal trainer –Kathy has become stronger and increased her range of motion. In early 2007, Kathy and I decided to participate in the Arthritis Foundation’s Joints in Motion program, which required that we cover 26.2 miles on foot. This was quite a stretch for both of us. I had completed the New York Marathon in 1993 but was no longer running, or even walking, long distances. Kathy was taking her daily walks but rarely exceeded four miles at a time. Still, we knew that the goal of raising awareness and money for arthritis would provide us with the necessary drive. We decided on the goal of completing the Athens, Greece, marathon, which is held every fall. After all, since Athens is the birthplace of the marathon, it seemed to be a fitting location. Our dream of walking a marathon now had a deadline. While training, we changed our team name to America to Anywhere for Arthritis (A2A4A), …. And we left for Athens with more than $35,000 in donations for the Arthritis Foundation.
As we entered the stadium that held the finish line, we were met by Cynthia (a team member), who had finished hours before us. I turned to Kathy, smiled, and said, “Nike!” (Greek for victory). The smile on her face was proof that she too felt victorious. A few minutes later –seven hours and forty-eight minutes after we had started — Kathy, Jeanne, Phyllis, and I crossed the finish line together. Our deadline had been met, and our dream had been achieved.
After all the donations came in, A2A4A had raised more than $42,000 for the Arthritis Foundation.
In 2008, we walked the Dublin Marathon, added three new team members, and raised more than $65,000 for the Arthritis Foundation.