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Tin Legs

Next week sees the launch of Dragons, the final installment of Champions for 1941, and returning in that book is one of my favorite guest-characters: Flight Lieutenant Douglas Bader. The double-amputee RAF pilot who refuses to quit despite his two ‘tin legs’ is still the first officer aboard Skipper Miller… and indeed, we’ll see even more of him in 1942.

I’ve already written about who Bader really was –– here’s my note from last April –– but I want to address one reaction to his character that I think needs to stop. Douglas Bader was definitely a remarkable Second World War hero, but he was not an anomaly, nor was he the sort of person who ‘isn’t born anymore’. Studying military history for as long as I have, I know how great the ‘greatest generation’ was… but just because we’ve all been made cynical in the information age doesn’t mean that we don’t have our share of heroes who refuse to quit. If you need proof, just check out reality TV.

No, that wasn’t a joke.

Tonight, the Canadian version of the hit reality competition The Amazing Race wraps up its first season, and I’m cheering for one team in particular. The Mitic brothers originally hail from Kitchener (or Kitchener-Waterloo, as we who live here sometimes call it) and elder brother Jody is an Afghan vet –– he was a sniper with the 1st Battalion of the Royal Canadian Regiment. You might be able to guess where this is going.

I don’t know the Mitics, but based on the story Jody told in last week’s episode –– when the teams were in St. John’s, no less –– he had an eventful end to his last deployment: he found a land mine. With his feet. So like Bader, Jody Mitic now has tin legs (or, more precisely, has modern prosthetic legs)… and, also like Bader, Mitic hasn’t given up.

Again recounting from Mitic’s own story, he proceeded to start a family with one of the medics who helped patch him up, is now a proud dad, and in case that wasn’t enough, is in the lead heading into the final leg (sorry, pun) of a race across our mighty country. It wouldn’t be quite right to say he makes all this look easy, because he’s been forthright about what his new feet can and can’t do… but he is definitely proving that people these days don’t have to give up after all.

Indeed, like Bader, Mitic has even begun his own not-for-profit –– appropriately, the Never Quit Foundation –– whose mandate is to help wounded vets and first responders reach their own goals, build confidence, and believe that their aspirations are still attainable. I can think of few better causes.

Maybe Mitic is old fashioned. Maybe the swagger he and Bader share is a relic of another time, when people spent less effort explaining how difficult their lives are, and more effort making them better. Or maybe there have always been, and will always be, people who do their best to improve their own lives, and the lives of those around them. Maybe we just don’t hear from those people as much these days because they’re too busy doing, and don’t have time to explain themselves.

But when we’re lucky, some of them get to do their work in front of a camera –– to share their stories. Douglas Bader was able to help inspire Britain after the Second World War, and as a result was portrayed by Kenneth More in Reach For The Sky. I don’t know if Jody Mitic will ever get his own movie, but he’ll certainly garner a lot of notice thanks to his stint on The Amazing Race. I hope he and his brother Cory finish first tonight, but even if they don’t, they’ve done us all a service by proving what uncynical determination can do, even in these jaundiced times.

So yes, we do still have people like Douglas Bader –– and I hope we always will.