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Hendershot gave audience a dose of true grit

May 13, 2007|By TONY MULIERI

Once a year, I need a strong dose of "true grit" to keep me going.

I received that elixir on Tuesday from keynote speaker N. Linn Hendershot, who addressed those attending the annual True Grit Award banquet at Fountain Head Country Club from his wheelchair.

Hendershot, a former Hagerstown city councilman, is in a wheelchair after a bout with childhood polio. But after listening to Hendershot, it is apparent he doesn't feel sorry for himself, and I got the impression he doesn't want anyone else to spend any time worrying about him either.

It's clearly difficult for him to speak over a long stretch, but a couple of the stories he told gave me goose bumps.

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He recounted how as a child, he had a couple of people in his life who inspired and challenged him.

One was Mrs. Wigfield, who he met at a home for disabled children where he lived at the time. He said he was just a young boy, maybe 10 or 12, and Mrs. Wigfield came up to him one day and gave him a ticket to a major league baseball game.

He said he was a big baseball fan, but he had no idea how he would get to the stadium. She gave him one ticket and a few dollars to get a hot dog and a drink at the game.

Hendershot admitted he was scared, but he managed to get to the ballpark, which in those days was not as accessible as the stadiums of today. He had people help him get his wheelchair over the curbs and through the turnstile.

He managed to wheel himself up the ramp and finally made it to his seat.

When he got there, Mrs. Wigfield was waiting for him.

She had challenged this young boy in a wheelchair to get to the game and he made it.

What a story.

He then told us about another person who inspired him.

He said he had a friend at this same home for children who had no arms, not even stumps. This boy loved to play chess, but he had to make all of his moves with his feet.

Hendershot said the boy's doctors got him to work on his pectoral muscles in his chest to make them stronger. The boy developed the muscles to the point where doctors were able to insert hooks in his chest. He learned to use those hooks from his chest as his hands.

Hendershot said he went to watch his friend at a chess tournament, and it was agonizing to watch the boy use those hooks to move the chess pieces just a short distance on the chessboard.

He said the boy won the tournament and the hearts of everyone who witnessed it.

Hendershot closed his talk by giving his take on life. His "mission statement" was left at everyone's seat. It read:

"Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and proudly proclaiming, 'Wow! What a ride!'

"So live today like there is no tomorrow, remember yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery and today is the present; that is why we call it a gift."

After Hendershot spoke, we heard about the local athletes who were named the True Grit award winners. There were 14 athletes and 14 inspirational stories of how they overcame obstacles and injuries to compete on their teams.

What a night.

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P.S. - If you're wondering, no, I haven't smoked a cigarette since I wrote my last column on Sunday, March 25.

Tony Mulieri is managing editor of The Daily Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7647, or by e-mail at tonym@herald-mail.com.

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