Three cheers

Three cheers

Profiles in courage are not as rare as some people think.

There are few things people like more than an inspirational tale about an individual who won't let a bad break keep him down.

Unless, of course, it's two of them.

That's why the stories of Illinois' U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk, an up-and-coming politician on the national stage, and 12-year-old Jackson Cunningham of Oakwood are so heart-warming.

Cunningham suffered a disabling stroke in 2011. Kirk's stroke came a year later. Since then, both man and boy have worked extremely hard in rehabilitation and formed a friendship based on mutual concerns and affection. They each have come a long way, but still have a long way to go.

Earlier this week, Kirk and Cunningham joined the Fighting Illini football team at Memorial Stadium for a race of sorts — a 40-yard dash to the end zone. Cunningham won handily, running along with Fighting Illini offensive lineman Michael Heitz.

Kirk, who walks with a cane but more often is in a wheelchair, took his trouncing in style, expressing the desire to one day run just like his young buddy.

The longest journey begins with just one step, a truism that's especially so in cases of this nature.

A stroke, sometimes called a "brain attack," occurs when blood flow to a part of the brain stops. Medical authorities says that "if blood flow is cut off for longer than a few seconds, the brain cannot get blood and oxygen. Brain cells can die, causing lasting damage" that comes in a variety of forms including paralysis.

This health threat should not be ignored. Those with medical concerns (high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, advanced age, high cholesterol, diabetes) should consult their physician about stroke prevention.

That is one reason the example set by Kirk and Cunningham is so important. They are helping to highlight a major health threat that can strike people of all ages and conditions. One need not be perceived in bad health to sustain a stroke. Sen. Kirk was an avid jogger, the picture of good health and mental acuity, when he was stricken.

More important, however, is their demonstration of resilience and determination that serves all people. Problems come in all forms to all people. But what matters is not what happens to people in life, but what they do about what happens to them.

These two — one who scaled the heights of American politics and the other just starting out in life — are lighting the way for anyone who has ever taken a punch to the jaw. It's a lesson everyone should take to heart.

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