The new year is just a few days old, but we’re not quite done bidding the last one farewell. (After all, we’re sentimentalists.) For our final year-end feature, we wanted to highlight nine men who made the world—and in some cases, your life—a better place in 2012. Here are our picks for the 2012 Heroes of Health and Fitness.
9. Cory Booker
Mayor of Newark, New Jersey
The words “Cory Booker” and “badass” might as well be interchangeable. The mayor’s heroic acts—saving a woman from a burning building, going on a 10-day hunger strike to draw attention to the dangers of open-air drug dealing—have won him the trust and admiration of Newark’s citizens. His latest efforts handling the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy are just as impressive: Booker personally delivered supplies to those affected by Sandy’s wrath, as well as opened up his home to those seeking electricity and a hot meal. Somewhere in his packed schedule, he still finds time to eat right. Discover How Cory Booker Manages His Meals.
8. Michael Phelps
Come on, we couldn’t not put our Fittest Man of All Time on this list. Phelps left the London Olympics as the greatest Olympian ever, nabbing his 18th gold for a total of 22 career medals. The swimmer holds 39 world records—more than any other person in the pool—and he’s still just 27 freaking years old. The man eats, drinks, and breathes excellence, and even though he says he’s done swimming, you can bet whatever he does next will keep him in the limelight for years to come.
7. Felix Baumgartner
Speaking of crazy accomplishments, in October, professional daredevil Felix Baumgartner became the first man to go faster than the speed of sound, reaching a maximum velocity of 833.9 mph. He jumped out of a helium balloon 128,100 ft (24 miles) above New Mexico, and was back on solid ground in less than 10 minutes. And as if breaking the sound barrier wasn’t awesome enough, Baumgartner also smashed the record for the highest ever freefall. (Read our Q+A with Baumgartner here.)
6. Doug Masiuka
Founder of 1Run
Diabetes may stop some men in their tracks, but not Doug Masiuk—he just keeps running. Diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when he was only 3 years old, Masiuk, a 38-year-old computer consultant from Annapolis, Maryland, ran the equivalent of one marathon a day over the past 8 months. The catch: His running route took him from coast to coast. Starting in San Francisco and ending in New York City, Masiuk logged 3,012 miles, all with the intent of spreading more awareness about type 1 diabetes. He met with politicians, spoke at town hall meetings, and made stops at schools, camps, and hospitals, but no matter where Masiuk stopped to speak, his message was clear: fitness saves lives. And while we generally don’t love the idea of using extreme fitness feats to promote fitness to the masses, the reality is that Masiuk’s method worked: You’re still reading about his message in 2013.
5. Bernard James
Power forward for the Dallas Mavericks
From the Air Force to the NBA, Bernard James’ story screams American pride. James was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force for 6 years, serving three tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Qatar. But when he finally returned to the states and to work toward getting his degree, his skills on the court were impossible to ignore. After two standout seasons of hoops at Florida State University—he entered school as a 25-year-old junior—the 6’10” power forward was chosen by the Cavaliers in the second round of the 2012 NBA Draft. James was quickly acquired by the Mavericks over the summer, and has been a solid contributor off the Dallas bench this season.
4. Jay Price
Head Coach of the Manasquan (New Jersey) High School football team
When Hurricane Sandy wrecked havoc along the East Coast, Jay Price transitioned from varsity football coach to local town hero. Prior to Sandy’s destruction, Price spent the majority of his time warning the folks of Manasquan—via loudspeaker—that they needed to evacuate. Once the storm was in full force, Price and several other men from the Manasquan Hook and Ladder Company No. 1 were busy coordinating rescue efforts and risking their safety to save dozens of those who were left behind. Post-storm, Price and his army of 94 football players are hard at work cleaning up the aftermath in Manasquan. The lesson: You don’t have to be Cory Booker to help with disaster relief—you just need to have determination.
3. Oscar Pistorius
If there was a more inspiring athlete at the 2012 Olympics than Oscar Pistorius sprinting, we sure as hell couldn’t find him. Born without any fibulas, Pistorius had both of his lower legs amputated when he was just 11 months old. But Pistorius’ family never treated his prosthetics as a limitation. Instead, they encouraged him to play rugby, water polo, and anything else he wanted to try. Here’s the thing: Pistorius not only learned to play those sports—he dominated them. First, the athlete conquered the 2004 and 2008 Paralympic Games (where he won four gold medals), then he landed a spot on the 2012 South African Olympic squad. Although he came up short in London, it didn’t make his achievement any less spectacular. (Check out Oscar Pistorius’ Running Rules.)
2. Mark Herzlich
New York Giants linebacker
When Mark Herzlich was diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer in 2009, he thought his chances of playing in the NFL were over. But Herzlich reclaimed his football career when he elected to get a titanium rod inserted into his left femur, instead of a cadaver bone. Fast forward to January 30, 2012: The perseverant linebacker made history when he arrived in Indianapolis on February 5 for Super Bowl XLVI against the Patriots. His now-legendary tweet pretty much sums it up:
1. Carl H. June, M.D.
Professor in Immunotherapy, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania
Gold medals are great, but nothing is more awe-inspiring than saving a child’s life. Meet Dr. Carl June. When 7-year-old Emma Whitehead beat leukemia earlier this year, it was because of an experimental treatment Dr. June and his team conjured up at the University of Pennsylvania. Whitehead had been ill with acute lymphoblastic leukemia since 2010, which—according to the Mayo Clinic—is the most common type of cancer in children. But the good doc battled the burden in April by using a disabled form of the virus that causes AIDS to reprogram Whitehead’s immune system, essentially leaving her cancer-free and Dr. June a hero. Remember his name.
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