When I graduated from high school I decided to enlist in the United States Air Force. The idea of earning money for college, building a career and seeing the world intrigued and excited me. My friends were surprised. My parents were supportive. There was just one small problem – I had to lose 20 pounds to meet Air Force weight requirements.
So all summer long I ate hard boiled eggs and green salads. I ran around the neighborhood trying to jog off the weight. Slowly the weight came off.
Then came the big day when my parents drove me to the Induction Center in Buffalo NY. I was eager to board the plane to basic training, but first there was a physical to face.
I sucked in my breath and stepped on the scale. The little old man with the bald head and wire rimmed glasses moved the weight slowly across the bar. I froze and watched as it settled in place just short of the goal. And my future fogged over as he said, “I’m sorry, young lady, but you don’t pass. You’re three pounds too heavy.”
I was devastated. Who knew how long I’d have to wait before I could join. Facing my siblings and friends would be embarrassing. We’d already said our good-byes.
So I waited for my recruiter, Terry Nichols, to find me as I sat in the hall pondering my fate. He was a tall, thin man who had been very encouraging during my summer of sacrifice. He was eager to hear my news, but could tell something was wrong.
“I’m not going Terry,” I said with the tears starting to slip. “I still have three pounds to lose.”
He sat quiet for a minute, then jumped up and said, “We’re not done yet. Follow me.”
He pushed open the door to the stairwell and held it open for me. “How bad do you want to join the Air Force?” he asked.
“It’s the most important thing in my life.”
He started up the stairs. “Then follow me,” he said.
And together we ran up and down the stairs of the Federal Building in Buffalo NY! My legs were so wobbly I couldn’t hardly stand. But he ran those stairs beside me when he could have just let me give up.
The little old bald man with the glasses was surprised to see me back. I stepped up on that scale and watched again as he moved the weight across the bar. And it stopped at half-pound-too-heavy. I looked deep into that man’s eyes and prayed for a miracle.
He leaned over and whispered, “Young lady, I’m going to let you pass. But if you EVER tell ANYONE about this, I’ll haunt you till the day you die!”
So I tell this story at every leadership speech I give and I haven’t been haunted yet!
As leaders, it’s what we DO that matters most. Sometimes taking that first step is all that’s needed for others to follow. Terry, thank you for providing a memorable leadership example. You made more of a difference than you’ll ever know!