Too often, the word ‘hero’ is used to define an athlete. Athletes are frequently cited for their on-field heroics, and while one player’s outstanding play during a contest may secure a victory or championship, it does not make that person a true hero. Acts of charity, while always admirable, still fall short of heroic. ‘Heroic’ is an adjective that should be reserved for acts of great courage and sacrifice in the face of danger and personal loss.
We all recognize Pat Tillman as the model athlete-hero, and rightfully so. Today, I’d like to dedicate a post to Shavarsh Karapetyan, a lesser-known athlete-hero whose story is often forgotten.
Shavarsh, a retired Soviet-Armenian fin swimmer, is an 11-time World Record holder, 17-time World Champion, 13-time European Champion and 7-time USSR Champion. On a cold September morning in 1976, Shavarsh was running along the dam in Erevan, Armenia, when he witnessed a trolleybus carrying 92 passengers lose control and fly off the road into the freezing water. Most of the passengers lost consciousness upon impact, as the bus began to sink into the river. Here is the story of Shavarsh’s heroic act (via ILTWMT):
Without a second of hesitation, Shavarsh leaped into the freezing water to rescue people. Diving to the depth of 10 meters, Shavarsh used his feet to break the back window of the trolleybus. One by one, he saved 20 peoples’ lives (he actually pulled out more then 20, but not everyone made it).
He spent nearly 20 minutes in the frigid water and accomplished 30 dives down to the wreck of the bus. His brother – Kamo Karapetyan —who was also a swimmer, took care of the injured people as Shavarsh brought them up to the surface. Bystanders who watched…said that his feet and back were full of glass shards.
After his 30th dive, Shavarsh lost consciousness. This courageous act has cost him dearly; he incurred heavy 2-sided pneumonia and blood contamination from the polluted water. Doctors were unsure if Shavarsh would ever recover. His life was hanging on by a thread while he stayed unconscious for 46 days. He finally recovered, but was never able to compete again. Today’s experts agree that no one but Shavarsh could have done what he has done.
So there you have it, the truly heroic story of an incredible athlete. And if that courageous act wasn’t impressive enough, in 1985 Shavarsh ran into a burning building and started pulling people to safety. With all due respect to other brave and selfless athletes, it’s seems like an injustice that Shavarsh isn’t universally recognized as the model of an athlete-hero.