Be Your Own Hero

Lou Ferrigno

Before he became known as “The Incredible Hulk,” bodybuilding actor Lou Ferrigno was a skinny, introverted boy growing up in New York. A severe ear infection in his early childhood caused Ferrigno to lose a majority of his hearing, making his speech difficult for his peers to understand. As a result, he was taunted.”They used to call me ‘deaf Louie,’ ‘deaf mute,’ because of my hearing and because of the way I sounded…”

Despite the bullying, Ferrigno was taught to never feel sorry for himself. Instead, he turned to comic books and immersed himself in stories of superheroes, including the Hulk. “I was just obsessed with power, the feeling of being powerful,” he explains.

-from “How Lou Ferrigno Went From Bullied, Skinny Kid To ‘Incredible Hulk’ (VIDEO)”
The Huffington Post

There are all too few heroes in our world anymore. I think part of it is because information about people is so much easier to access. And in a world where data moves at the speed of light, and anyone can post the latest scandal to the web in seconds, it’s much harder for our public heroes to keep their private lives private.

Probably one of the more well-known examples of private-lives-turned-public was the affair Arnold Schwarzenegger had with his housekeeper Mildred Baena reported a few years back. This resulted in the birth of a son for Schwarzenegger and Baena, and also resulted in Arnold’s really public divorce from his wife of over 25 years, Maria Shriver.

In spite of that, Schwarzenegger remains admired by many for his successes, first as a bodybuilder, and then as an actor and entertainer. Regardless of the setbacks he’s faced, he never gives up, and today, continues to act and remains a very public figure.

Still, it’s tough to forget that Arnold is all too human, unlike our heroes of yesteryear who, although they were equally human, managed to keep their humanity private so that they could be the actors, athletes, superheroes, and saints we all imagined them to be.

hulk times square
Lou Ferrigno as the Incredible Hulk

I suppose this is one reason why I admire Lou Ferrigno. He’s an underdog who started out shy and bullied, the way many of us grew up, only to achieve great things and still manages to live a private life that seems every bit as “heroic” as his public image.

Low self-image usually forms at an early age. A person might have had excessively critical parents or teachers, failed to get along well with other children, or received low marks in school.

Though this attitude was formed long ago, the only reason it lasts in the present is because a person now keeps repeating it to himself. Yet he has the ability to tell himself, “In the past I may have judged myself to be inferior, but I will now think for myself and appreciate my true value.”

Being aware of the source of poor self-image makes it easier to challenge the assumptions upon which it is based. It is possible that while you had certain faults in the past, you presently are learning to overcome them.

Or, perhaps the people who judge you unfavorably were using a yardstick that you do not presently accept. For example, in school a student is usually judged by the marks he receives on tests. Some students with low grades worked hard to understand, and more importantly may have internalized the concepts and practiced them to a greater degree than others who received higher grades. As a child, the diligent student with poor grades might have felt inferior, but as an adult he has the ability to appreciate how he may have really accomplished more.

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Rabbi Pliskin is another one of my heroes, though I know next to nothing about him personally. However, through his inspirational online musings as well as his books, this Rabbi, Psychologist, and Author has managed to show me the best in what humanity has to offer in terms of kindness, compassion, and a desire to repair our broken world.

In the rather lengthy quote above, Rabbi Pliskin relates a message that we see in the life and motivation of Lou Ferrigno. Who we once were or how we were once treated doesn’t have to dictate who we decide to be today.

But as the Rabbi’s missive indicates, that’s sometimes easier said than done. The person we were as a child or young adult is gone, but he or she can remain alive within us simply by our own self-narrative. If we believe we haven’t changed or can’t change, and tell ourselves that message, then we won’t change. We are slaves to our own perceived victimhood, although we are now victims only to ourselves.

Lou Ferrigno chose bodybuilding as the platform upon which to build his change, not just in his body, but in his self-narrative. He built acting on that platform and chose to continue to rise above who he was before, emerging not only as a hero on our television sets, but in day-to-day life.

Through FerrignoFIT, he shares the benefits of exercise and healthy living with the rest of us, making an active life and all that goes with it available to old and young alike.

However, one of those benefits has nothing (or at least very little) to do with the person we see in the mirror. It has almost everything to do with the person we see in the mirror of our soul.

I’ve been in and out of the gym for the better part of 30 years. I’d join a gym to get fit, exercise for a while, see benefits, but something would always draw me back to being sedentary. I’ve been on this roller coaster ride through the lifetimes of my children.

Several years ago, just prior to my most recent foray back into exercise, my wife unfavorably compared me to Santa Claus. Believe me, I was less than “jolly” about the comment.

But between that and my son David’s encouragement, I went back to the gym, and although my start-up was pretty rocky, I’ve managed to stick with it this time.

hanging around
Photo credit:

Although some folks can pull themselves up by their bootstraps, so to speak, through an entirely internal process, others need something a bit more “tangible” to hang their hats on (I’m just full of metaphorical clichés today).

Especially if you are older, especially if you’re out of shape, and especially if that shape is round, chances are you don’t think particularly well of yourself. Maybe being called the equivalent of “Santa Claus” really hurts, or perhaps you’re the only one calling yourself names (and it still hurts).

This is a blog dedicated to improving health, and using exercise and diet as the means to do so, especially among seniors. But it’s also a place to challenge preconceptions, dispel myths, and break barriers.

If part of what’s dragging you down is how you look in the mirror, a lack of energy, strength, and drive, and how that impacts your self-worth, you can take charge.

In fact, regardless of whatever it is about you that you don’t like (or what others don’t like about you), you can take charge and make some sort of change.

Depending on the challenge you face, how far you can take that change may vary, or it may be impossible to decide, at least in the beginning, just how much control you can achieve in becoming a different, better person, inside and out.

But whatever it is, we have examples and heroes who have faced the same difficulties we face (or worse) and who still have managed to come out on top.

One of the things I admire about Ferrigno is that coming out on top means helping others do the same. If being successful at something results in you dragging other people down, you haven’t become a better person at all, even if you have achieved better health and physical conditioning (or whatever you’ve achieved).

Whatever changes you make, although there are times when you have to focus on yourself, the ultimate outcome must be that both you and the people around you benefit.

We all admire a winner, but only when that person turns about and helps others win, too.

changeI think that’s the advantage of remembering where we come from, what challenges we’ve faced, and how they once dragged us into the darkest places of our hearts. Once we see daylight and live in the sunshine, we should look back into the darkness and see who else we can bring with us.

Today, if you’re not doing so well, imagine that there’s a way to rise above. There is. Someday, you not only can help yourself, you can be in a position to help others…

…but you have to start with you.

Be your own hero, then start being a hero to someone else.

All you have to do is change the story you tell yourself about your life.

Life has no remote. Get up and change it yourself.



11 thoughts on “Be Your Own Hero

    1. Thanks. I read the quote from Rabbi Pliskin, remembered how Lou talked about being bullied as a child and how he responded by ultimately building a career as a bodybuilder and actor, and the rest was easy. We all need heroes, even if they’re ourselves.

      Liked by 1 person

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