Yesterday afternoon, I was among the estimated eight million people who watched Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner fall to earth from the edge of space. I was riveted with suspense as the 43-year-old Baumgartner stepped out of his capsule suspended beneath a balloon twenty-four miles above the surface of the earth. Once he had completed all of the items on his checklist, this real live Buzz Lightyear leaned forward and plunged through the stratosphere toward the state of New Mexico below. With NASA-esque commentary in the background, I watched as Baumgartner quickly accelerated to more than 800-miles per hour, becoming the first human being to break the sound barrier outside of an airplane. His five-minute descent was the culmination of five years of hard work and overcoming obstacles. Throughout those years of preparation, Baumgartner kept his eyes on the prize — and broke several world records as a result.
Five things in particular caught my attention about Baumgartner’s fabulous feat. First, he found a willing mentor in Joe Kittinger. In 1960, Kittinger set the record for the highest parachute jump from a height of almost 20 miles. Second, Baumgartner broke the sound barrier without an aircraft on the anniversary of the day that the renowned Chuck Yaeger first broke the sound barrier in an aircraft in 1947. Third, Baumgartner’s jump gathered lots of info for NASA which could have implications for astronauts and high-altitude safety. Fourth, Baumgartner expressed his gratitude to his team and supporters. He acknowledged that he could not have accomplished his record-breaking feat all by himself. And finally, Baumgartner is the real deal. He worked hard to prepare for and to execute his dream. After his jump, Baumgartner said, “We live to conquer fears and pursue dreams. May our attempts and accomplishments prosper humankind.”
Perhaps another reason I was so impressed with Baumgartner is because of a 20/20 segment I watched on Friday evening about other people who go to extremes — in the case of this segment, people who go to extremes to alter their bodies through plastic surgery. The report featured a 32-year-old guy named Justin Ledlica, who refers to himself as a human Ken doll. This guy has an amazing-looking sculptured physique. The troubling thing is that it’s all the product of carefully placed silicone implants. This dude has spent $100,000 and endured more than 90 plastic surgeries in the past ten years to achieve his faux-physique. When asked why he did not go to the gym instead, he replied that working out is “not exciting, glamorous, or fabulous.” We live in a day when folks can take all kinds of shortcuts to create a certain image of themselves. As for me, I don’t have much respect for Barbie-doll boy. He’s not the kind of example we need. I prefer those who are willing to break a sweat to pursue their dreams and who inspire others to do the same. Kudos to Felix Baumgartner. He not only has the right stuff. He is the real deal!