Courage and Chivalry Today

A story of winners and losers, and the virtues of a modern knight in shining armor

Here is a tale of chivalry told in two acts. A character study of two individuals who demonstrate very clearly that there’s a difference between coming in first and being a champion. Both have something to teach us about courage.

The first fellow is Ned. Throughout his life, Ned enjoyed a variety of sports and outdoor activities. A few years ago, he took up a new hobby: Old Western re-enactment. At these events, members of the club capture the flavor of the American west in the nineteenth century by dressing up in authentic frontier clothing, eating period meals around an open fire, holding square dances, and competing in shooting matches using replica guns right out of a John Wayne movie.

But the club’s organizers had a dilemma. They recognized that modern equipment and techniques could give some competitors a significant advantage. On the other hand, they were sympathetic to new members who wanted to participate, but didn’t have access to costly authentic cowboy gear, or who just didn’t understand the rules completely. They tried to keep their cowboy re-enactment game simple and fun, hoping that everyone would join in the historic flavor of the event — abide the “Code of the Cowboys” as it were.

To encourage this, match judges used a convention known as the “Failure To Do Right” rule. A participant charged with a Failure To Do Right wasn’t disqualified, nor was a penalty added to their score, it was simply used to discourage unauthentic, distasteful or improper behavior. Most of the people who played in the cowboy games respected the Failure To Do Right rule, and they tried to instill that respect in others.

Back to Ned. Before joining the cowboy group, Ned was very active in amateur sports — softball leagues, volleyball tournaments, flag football teams and the like. Ned knew a thing or two about competition. “Just win” was his motto, taken right off the sports gear commercials, and with that philosophy, he entered the cowboy club’s regional championship match. Ned brought with him an assortment of equipment which just barely met the requirements for authenticity, and he utilized unconventional techniques at every opportunity. When the final scores were tallied at the end of the match, the trophy went to Ned.

Marathon, by Thad ZajdowiczA triumph in the spirit of courage? Maybe according to the sports drink ads and athletic shoe commercials. During the match, however, Ned had been charged with numerous Failures To Do Right, but since they carried no penalty, he paid them no heed. Here’s what he had to say after the match: “What a bunch of bumpkins. Failure To Do Right doesn’t bother me. If it’s a penalty, penalize me. If not, get out of my way. I’m here to win.”

Here’s our second profile in courage — Frederico. At the same time Ned was competing in the cowboy championship, Frederico ran the Los Angeles Marathon. He didn’t win. He didn’t come in first in his age bracket. He didn’t have the most improved time, and he wasn’t the youngest or the oldest or the biggest celebrity in the race. Frederico had one distinction: In a field of 16,000 runners, he placed 16,000th. Dead last. He completed the twenty-eight mile course in just under eleven hours, giving him an average speed of about two and a half miles an hour.

Going into the race, Frederico had a pretty good idea where he’d wind up. He was old, overweight and out of shape. Frederico never expected fame and glory when he sent in his entry form. The only person cheering him on at the end of the race was the police officer waiting to remove the “finish line” sign.

Out of 16,000 runners, Frederico was competing with only one person: himself. He knew that all the hot-shot runners would be elbowing past the “old fat guy” when the starter’s pistol fired. He knew that the ESPN camera crew would broadcast pictures of him wobbling and panting at the
end of the pack while the commentators made jokes at his expense. He knew that, in the land of beautiful smiles and perfect bodies, everyone watching the race would be wondering, “What is that guy doing?” None of that bothered him a bit.

Here’s what Frederico had to say after finishing the course: “Anybody can be motivated to win a marathon. Not everyone has the guts to finish last.”

Two individuals, two stories, two outcomes. After the cowboy shooting championship, new rules were enacted banning certain types of equipment and techniques. Next season, Ned hung up his spurs — if he had to compete with the “bumpkins” on their terms, he didn’t want to compete at all.

After the marathon, people who heard about Frederico’s performance were inspired to challenge their own limits, to push their own boundaries, to do that one thing they thought they could never do because someone would laugh at them. Luckily, there was someone with the courage to run ahead of them and demonstrate that even coming in last can be a triumph.

Ned and Frederico. First and last. One has a trophy and one is a champion, but both have something to teach us about the true spirit of courage and chivalry.