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A victory lap of a very different kind

Walt Disney had it right
shelley column pic
Want to meet a champion?

The Indy 500 has a new one. The NHL is getting closer to determining theirs.  Same with the NBA. The Kentucky Derby served up a surprise. Champions. Those athletic achievements marked by a superior performance where a trophy is presented and a celebration launched.

Not all champions pursue the same thing. Some would never dare to call themselves champions. There’s no trophy. No big payday. But something else—something significant—drives them.

Planners of a World’s Fair wanted highly visible, easy to access garbage cans so people would more likely throw trash away properly and keep the grounds looking clean. To take it up a notch they asked for a talking version that would greet visitors after depositing trash.

The Garbage Eating Goat was sculpted for Expo '74 to raise awareness of the importance of caring for the environment. But not everyone was happy with the project at the time. While an initiative to curb littering might not seem controversial, this one was because goat farmers were unhappy with the misleading message that goats eat garbage. It took quite an effort to find a compromise, but eventually a sign was put up near the iron goat describing what the animals prefer to eat and the goat remained in Riverfront Park, Spokane where it continues to keep the area free of trash. It's whimsical, fun and effective, even if its origins were somewhat rocky.

Can you imagine shopping at a grocery store without benefit of a shopping cart? When it was invented in 1937 it was sneered at. A store owner came up with the design hoping it would encourage shoppers to buy more since they wouldn't have to carry around their items, but when it was first rolled out it was not a hit. Women said it reminded them of using baby carriages, and men weren't interested at all. So the inventor hired models to push them around the store all day to try and convince shoppers they were helpful things. It worked. Despite the distaste people had for them initially, they would become standard anywhere people liked to shop.

Then there is the humble umbrella, a form of which was used by several different early civilizations, but was most definitely eschewed later on as being inconvenient and a sure sign that one did not have his own covered carriage and was foolishly trying to control their personal climates. One risked being laughed and jeered at if they carried an umbrella, with unflattering comparisons to being less than masculine or something only women would use. But beginning in 1750 a determined man set out on the streets of London boldly carrying the offensive item. He was called ridiculous and occasionally pelted with garbage, but nonetheless he persisted. Slowly, cultural change made the umbrella a bit more acceptable as men decided staying dry was now preferable to being a bit snobbish and damp.

Examples are boundless of concepts that received a chilly reception initially that later went on to become something that is valued. But these ideas had champions; individuals who were determined to see something through despite opposition, ridicule and push back. They actively promoted or advocated on behalf of a cause or idea because they believed in its worth and decided any number of obstacles were not enough to sway them.

Take a look around your community. Consider the recreational facilities it offers, the parks that add beauty, and the monuments and memorials that pay tribute. Look again at the venues where citizens gather for concerts, enjoy shows, or participate in games. Think about the places of worship, the educational facilities, the gardens and special touches that help set a community apart. They are there because they had a champion--someone or some group who dedicated themselves to its origin, its completion, and its continuation.

It likely wasn’t easy. There were hurdles and roadblocks along the way. But the people behind it persevered and refused to become cynical, complacent or overwhelmed. That’s what champions do. They don’t worry about the odds. They don’t dwell on what might be against them. They dream the dreams, set the goals, and chart the course.

Walt Disney famously said ‘Disneyland will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.’ We need to take a similar approach to the places we live. A community can never think it is done. If it does, you can bet it is stagnant, or worse, diminishing. But vibrant communities look to one completed project as impetus for the next.

Because of people refusing to give up or give in, we have spaces that add beauty, inventions that bring convenience, and items that add comfort. But it took someone with vision to see past the attitudes of the cynics or negativity of the naysayers.

How exciting it would be if every individual saw their community as a place that is just getting started and is awaiting their efforts to add the next dynamic element. They likely won’t have banners raised in their honor but they are champions of the most enduring kind. That’s my outlook.