Electric utility lineworkers are everyday heroes who
brave harsh weather and danger so we don’t have to endure either. So it was
fitting that a lineman rodeo last month near Richmond gave over 120
lineworkers the chance to showcase their skills while family, friends and
coworkers cheered them on.
In the misplaced idol worship of youth, as a boy in the
’60s my heroes tended toward professional athletes. Carl Yastrzemski. Bill
Russell. Roman Gabriel. All good guys, all outstanding athletes, all paid
well by the standards of the time, though hugely underpaid in the absurd
salary stratosphere of 21st-century professional sports.
In a world with only three major networks, you would keep
up with your favorite athletes by watching them occasionally on TV, and by
reading about them in newspapers and magazines. And in a world predating the
constantly swirling searchlight of hungry media, the foibles and follies of
athletes remained largely unknown, as the trivial, mundane matters they
should be, and are.
But today, of course, every foolish comment, tart retort,
grudge or grievance, confessional moment, and bellowing boast is covered by
a 24/7 media struggling to fill airtime. And, more and more, athletes
themselves prime the publicity pump by dispensing gossipy tweets they pass
off as relevant news. Few of us — athlete, politician or average man or
woman —would see our reputation burnished in such a glass house. And, of
course, few do.
So a larger truth I’ve realized as a late-middle-aged
adult is that professional athletes should rarely be idolized as heroes. By
man, woman or child. They have talents that we enjoy watching, of course.
Those talents make the most gifted among them celebrities. But not heroes.
Heroism isn’t about being paid — in most cases, extremely
well — to play a game that you enjoy, at which you’re skilled, and for which
you receive adulation and applause.
Heroism is instead about sacrifice. It’s about serving
others, or a higher cause. It’s about taking risks, putting others first,
without thought of personal gain or glory. It’s about police officers …
firefighters … emergency responders … schoolteachers … volunteers …
soldiers, sailors and Marines … and electric utility lineworkers.
Every hour of every day of every year, there’s a utility
lineworker building, maintaining or repairing an electric line somewhere,
overhead or underground. It’s difficult, dangerous work that’s carried out
by tough-as-leather, smart and savvy professionals who don’t merely put
their skills to the test to keep your and my lights on; they literally put
their lives on the line every time they climb a pole or into a bucket and
ascend to a zone so dangerous that a misstep can take a limb, or a life.
To thank these unsung heroes,
every year the regional association of electric cooperatives that publishes
this magazine hosts a “lineman rodeo.” During two days early last month, at
the 12th annual Gaff-n-Go Lineman’s Rodeo north of Richmond, over 120
lineworkers from seven states took part in their own Super Bowl, a chance to
engage in friendly competition and test their skills in key areas. Best of
all, they got to do so as hundreds of family members, colleagues and friends
cheered them on.
Everyone there was demonstrating, celebrating or
supporting this important, dangerous craft, which all of us undoubtedly
admire, but to which few are called to make their life’s work.
Those who do answer the call are so good at what they do
that the rest of us expect our electric service to be available 24/7/365.
When it is interrupted — usually by winter ice storms, spring windstorms,
summer thunderstorms, or fall hurricanes — we
expect our power to be restored quickly.
So it’s only fitting that these heroes — these “wood
walkers” as they sometimes call themselves — be celebrated and showcased at
events like last month’s rodeo, and thanked as often as possible. These
dedicated professionals don’t ask for, or expect, thanks, which is all the
more reason to give it. And for those attending the rodeo, few moments in
life can match the emotional power of watching a lineman’s small children
gaze in awe as their father skillfully scales a utility pole in the “hurt
man” competition, and successfully “rescues” a life-size mannequin.
So, next time you’re watching feats of athletic prowess
or nail-biting end-of-game finishes on TV, remember that the heroes aren’t
on the screen. They’re behind the set, beyond the outlet, through the
wiring, on the other side of the meter.
The electricity that brings you entertainment,
information, comfort and nourishment is more than just a flow of electrons.
It’s the handiwork of heroes.
(To view photos
from this year’s rodeo, go to www.gaff-n-go.com.)