Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dare to Fail

Teddy Roosevelt, President of the United States (1901-1909), made a speech in 1910 that included the following words: "It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

Born in 1905, during Roosevelt's presidency, Norman Vaughan lived a life of adventure few could match.

Vaughan, at age 22, joined Admiral Richard Byrd's 1928 expedition to the South Pole. Vaughan was a skilled dog handler and musher whose main responsibility was to move 650 tons of supplies by dog sled to a base camp. Admiral Byrd appreciated Vaughan's effort so much he named a mountain after him.

At age 27, Vaughan participated in dog sled sprint races in the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY.

During World War II, Vaughan trained men and dogs for rescues. He had 425 dogs under his command.

He and his crew rescued, by dog team, 26 airmen of a lost squadron off the Greenland ice sheet. He returned to the crash sight solo by dog sled, within sight of the enemy, to salvage a top-secret bombsight.

At the Battle of the Bulge, he organized and led 17 drivers with 209 dogs in an evacuation of wounded soldiers.

During the Korean War, Vaughan served in the Psychological Warfare Department with the Pentagon.

Later, he served as Chief of Search and Rescue of the North Atlantic Division of the International Civil Aviation Organization, a branch of the United Nations.

In 1967, at age 62, Vaughan drove a snowmobile from Alaska to Boston, a 5000-mile journey.

The following year he became the first non-Alaskan to compete in the North American Sled Dog Championship in Alaska.

At age 65, Vaughan returned to Antarctica to climb his mountain, Mount Vaughan. The National Geographic Society filmed the first attempt. It took three attempts before Vaughan reached the 10,320-foot peak.

At age 68, Vaughan lost his business and dissolved his marriage. Penniless, he moved to Alaska where he shoveled sidewalks for food and eventually became a janitor. Over time, he began to assemble a dog team.

At age 72, he participated in his first Iditarod, an annual 1,150-mile dog sled race from Anchorage to Nome.

In 1990, at age 84, he completed the last of his 13 appearances in the Iditarod race.

During the 1990s, Vaughan returned to Greenland over an 11-year span to help salvage a P-38, one of the airplanes that had been downed during his World War II escapades in Greenland 50 years earlier.

In 1997, at age 92, Vaughan organized the Serum Run, an 868-mile dog sled race from Nenana to Nome, commemorating the 1925 event where dog teams were called upon to deliver diphtheria serum to save Nome.

Vaughan wanted to celebrate his 100th birthday, on December 19, 2005, on the summit of Mount Vaughan but was confined to a hospital bed in Anchorage while recovering from triple bypass surgery. A lifelong teetotaler, he told visitors "I told my mother I wouldn't drink until I was 100" as he had his first sip of champagne. He was already planning his next adventure, an expedition to the North Pole.

Four days later, on December 23, he died.

Norman Vaughan's motto was "The only death you die is the death you die every day by not living. Dream big and dare to fail."

Mission accomplished. His next adventure will be somewhere off in the Great Beyond.

The only person who never fails is the person who never tries.

Dare to fail – it's good for the soul.

Quote for the Day – "Eighty percent of success is showing up." Woody Allen

Bret Burquest is a former award-winning columnist and author of four novels. He lives in the Ozark Mountains with a dog named Buddy Lee and a long list of failure. His blogs appear on several websites, including www.myspace.com/bret1111

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