A “Real” Beautiful Person

A “Real” Beautiful Person

From A 6th Bowl of Chicken Soup for the Soul

A “Real” Beautiful Person

What is the definition of beautiful? Webster’s Dictionary says, “Beautiful is the assemblage of perfection through which an object is rendered pleasing to the eye.”

My definition of beautiful is embodied in a young man that I was fortunate to have as a student and friend: Larry Chloupek. Larry was diagnosed with cancer of the bone when he was seven. Surgeons removed his leg, giving him a 5 percent chance of recovery. That occurred more than thirty years ago.

I remember when Larry first came into my physical education class. How is he going to fit into my class? I thought. I felt I had to make adjustments to accommodate him. However, Larry was never a problem; I was the problem. I was an inexperienced teacher and was worried that he would get hurt, but he never did.

Once we were playing basketball, and it seemed like every time Larry would get close to the action, the team went in the opposite direction. This happened repeatedly. I wanted so badly to tell Larry “Just stand still.” It didn’t appear to bother him at all. It bothered me a lot because I never saw him reaching his goal, and I badly wanted him to attain it. It is natural for me to want everyone who has a goal to reach it.

Larry also participated in The President’s Physical Fitness Test. The first test involved chin-ups. He completed some—I don’t know how many, but it was enough to be in the 95th percentile. This is required to earn The President’s Physical Fitness Award. I did not realize the significance of that score at the time.

The next test was the standing broad jump. Larry came over to me and asked me if he could do it at home. When I asked why, Larry said he needed to take his leg off to compete effectively. He said, “Mr. Carruthers, would you be embarrassed for me to remove my leg at school?” I agreed with him, so he did the next test at home. The next day, he brought the score to school. He had jumped longer than 6 feet, which put him in the 95th percentile again. Now I knew what was on his mind. He wanted to get The President’s Physical Fitness Award.

The next two tests were the 300-yard run and the shuttle, which involves changing directions and bending. These are very difficult tasks for someone with an artificial leg. Knowing what was on Larry’s mind, I phoned the director of The President’s Physical Fitness Program and asked if he had a scale for a person with an artificial leg. He said no, but added that we could determine our own criteria. We decided to waive the 300-yard run and the shuttle because Larry had performed at a high level in all the other activities.

The final test was the softball throw. I showed Larry the adjusted scale and he thought it was fair. On his first throw, Larry was short. I had a sick feeling in my stomach; I wanted so badly for Larry to attain his goal. He did make it on his second throw. I was so relieved and proud! He earned the award.

On another occasion, Larry was playing soccer and broke the foot off his artificial leg. One of the students carried him into the school while a teacher carried in his foot. What a bizarre-looking situation. We laugh at it now, but at the time it made a young man who just wanted to fit in feel different from everyone else.

When that year ended, the physical education department selected Larry as the Physical Education Student of the Year. Most junior high students do not acknowledge their peers’ achievements, nor do they respect people who are different. However, it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up even now to visualize Larry walking with a different gait across the gym floor to accept the award. The student body gave him a standing ovation. That was the first time I saw a student body respond in that manner.

Larry now works as an administrator for the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health. He also counsels cancer patients and amputees. Athletically, he ran a nine-minute mile, five-and ten-kilometer races, and won a gold medal in the five-kilometer race. He carried the Olympic torch in the last Olympiad and participated as a member of the Para-Olympic team in Atlanta in the sport of sitting volleyball. He also enjoys water and snow skiing and golf. Nothing holds Larry back. I was very grateful recently to have Larry visit the high school where I teach to share with our students and play some basketball. Everyone was blessed that day.

I’m sure glad I had the opportunity to teach and know Larry. Larry defines “beautiful” for me.

Dave Carruthers

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