On National Superhero Day, a doughnut for the ordinary heroes

Tuesday marks National Superhero Day, a day to consider the ordinary people who become heroes through their altruism.

Courtney Schrieve/North Thurston Public Schools via AP
In this Monday photo provided by the North Thurston Public Schools, school teacher Brady Olson poses for a photo at the school. The popular teacher is being hailed as a hero after tackling a 16-year-old student who fired two shots into the air Monday at North Thurston High School in Lacey, Wash.

This Tuesday you can celebrate National Superhero Day with a free Krispy Kreme doughnut, and perhaps even give a few to the ordinary people who have become heroes, not through exposure to gamma rays or radioactive spiders, but through their own altruism.

"[National Superhero Day] was started by Marvel comic employees in 1995 and we kind of picked up on it three years ago," says Krispy Kreme Spokesperson Lafeea Watson, in a call to the North Carolina company's Doughnut Emergency Line. "It was kinda a Marvel Comics feelgood thing and turned into doing good. So we added a philanthropic part where people can get one free – so you can buy a dozen of any kind and get a dozen free to give away to teachers, firefighters, police, or whoever."

One person who deserves a free doughnut, at the very least, is Brady Olson, a social studies teacher at North Thurston High School in Lacey, Wash. According to published reports, on Monday, Mr. Olson tackled a sophomore student who was firing a gun at the floor and ceiling, in what may have been an attempt at suicide by cop. He tackled the boy just as police were preparing to shoot, authorities said.

And perhaps another dozen or so ought to go to the several bystanders at the State Street subway station in Boston, who rescued a pregnant woman who fell on the tracks on Saturday morning.

On the same day in Rhodes, Greece, Army Sergeant Antonis Deligiorgis became a national hero after bystanders marveled at his superhero strength while he single-handedly brought 20 of 93 Syrians and Eritreans migrants ashore. Their rickety vessel struck the rocks and rapidly sank, leaving the passengers floundering in the strong currents off Zefyros Beach.

The Real Life Heroes channel on YouTube provides a ready stream of video clips of all kinds of heroes, human and animal.

Those seeking an ultimate hero might want to turn to the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which puts in a Herculean effort in search of "extreme altruism," that is, putting one's own life at risk to save others.

According to Walter F. Rutkowski, president of the Hero Fund,  about 20 percent of the Carnegie Hero awards go to people posthumously. The foundation’s investigation into a candidate can take up to a year to verify and select.

“Our heroes are true to life, they are not fictional,” Rutkowski said in an interview. “The awardees are selected because they have risked their lives to an extraordinary degree to save the lives of other people. That translates into extreme altruism. I think we would all agree that a bit more altruistic behavior in society would be appropriate.”

While the news may appear to be filled with little more than bad news about society, the commission “is not starved for candidates,” with 800 to 1,000 nominations per year. Awards are given out quarterly.

Candidates come from the general public, via a form on the website, as well as through Internet searches by staff and sifting through the offerings of a news clipping service to which the organization subscribes.

One common trait among them seems to be that they are “humble,” not seeking fame or glory, Mr. Rutkowski says.

The qualifications for being named a Carnegie Hero are stringent: no pet or animal rescues, human life saving only; risk to the rescuer’s own life must be extreme; the hero cannot be responsible for causing the victim’s threatening circumstances or be a person obligated to make the rescue. No firefighters or police unless the act is “above and beyond the call of duty”, and rescues of family members are considered only in the event of severe injury or death to the rescuer. The facts of the rescue must be well documented.

Of all the many cases that come across Rutkowski’s desk, Philip Scholz of Pleasanton, California, came to his mind immediately.

The Silicon Valley technology salesman literally laid down his life to stop another man from committing suicide on the track of a commuter rail line.

Rutkowski explains that, “He [Mr. Scholz] was on his way home from work, waiting for a commuter train in Santa Clara, standing on the platform and saw a disturbed man, standing on the track intending to commit suicide as an express train was entering the station.”

According to published reports, Scholz dropped his backpack, ran to the edge of the platform, and reached for the stranger on the tracks.

Both men were struck by the train, and only one lived.

“Here we have a very young, he was only 35-years-old, successful man who sacrificed his life for a suicidal man who did indeed survive,” Rutkowski says. “That’s the ultimate in offering of one’s life for somebody else. The ultimate altruistic deed.”

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