RENOVO — Through real-life experiences, a heavy dose of compassion and even humor looking back upon his life, Rick Yarosh, a retired sergeant of the US Army presented a portion of Sweethearts & Heroes and HOPE (Hold On, Possibilities Exist) Wednesday evening at Renovo Elementary School.
All were invited to the evening program. But especially parents who were given a change to see what Yarosh and co-founder Tom Murphy were presenting to Keystone Central School District students this week. “Sweethearts and Heroes” focuses on empathic fitness and HOPE, with an aim at preventing bullying and suicide.
The turnout was largely made up of western Clinton County veterans for Yarosh’s presentation Wednesday — which he did without Murphy — which was still impactful to the silent and appreciative crowd, with only laughter from one of Yarosh’s jokes breaking the silence over the entire 90 minutes.
Yarosh explained that he was moved to join the Army after several events, which included the way Americans had put their arms around one another following the September 11th attacks in 2001, as well as a young soldier whose death appeared over Easter weekend in 2004 in his local newspaper. Yarosh had known the soldier from his days in high school wrestling.
“I thought to myself, ‘he gave everything for me, for us, what have I done,’” Yarosh offered to the audience.
Yarosh soon joined the Army. He himself would soon face a horrific accident. This is where his story starts to get into his message of HOPE, that no matter what a situation deals a person, possibilities do exist.
Yarosh’s team Bradley was on patrol Sept. 1, 2006 when it ran over an IED under the dirt of the road. An explosion occurred and the design of the military vehicle had the soldier seated next to the gas tank.
The retired soldier again ties his experiences into a constant teaching seminar as he detailed the accident to those in the room. He could have been much more graphic in a room of just veterans. But since a couple of young students were present, he gave a more audience appropriate explanation of his insults.
Yarosh explained that his nose, ears and hands were obviously burning off from being on fire and covered in fuel oil from his location to the fuel tank. His fellow soldier sitting on the opposite side of the fuel tank in the Bradley would die from his injuries a week later. Yarosh jumped off the ten-foot vehicle while being on fire, without being able to see, which caused him to lose his right leg.
Yarosh now calls that day, Sept. 1, 2006 “the best day of my life.”
The Army Veteran explained that despite his looks, he was able to process everything — which wasn’t easy by any means. Four months after the accident, he told his mother he wanted to die. Something, he said, that hopelessness had driven him to say. He added he was ashamed to have ever felt that way.
After processing this change, he learned what has become another staple of Hope. We all carry hope for other people and we must be willing to offer it daily.
Yarosh went down the list of people that gave him HOPE during the presentation. This list included an Army psychologist who would distract him using of all things a jar of dead spiders — it’s here where you’d have to hear the Purple Heart recipient explain, something all of those in attendance were better for.
Another person who gave him HOPE was a small child who he encountered in a Texas restaurant while he was still recovering. Yarosh said he’s aware that 25 percent of the population, particularly young children see him as a “monster.”
In fact, he takes pride in seeing young kids scared when he first walks into a school but wins them over throughout the program, he said.
The young girl in the Texas restaurant was urged by her grandfather to walk over and say hello to Yarosh.
After he spoke with her, she ran back to her table. Yarosh was afraid he was going to hear the word “monster.”
Instead, the young girl said excitedly “you’re just a man.”
“It was the best compliment I have ever been given in my entire life” Yarosh said.
Yarosh is now married, has a daughter and a second daughter that he and his wife adopted. He has spread his message of HOPE to nearly two million people over 15 years.
In finding HOPE in such a tragedy, he encourages all to do the same through kindness.
“Would I be married if I wasn’t wounded, probably, but not to this woman,” he said lovingly of his wife as a picture of his family was on a screen behind him.
“Would I have kids, probably, but not these two kids,” he said proudly. “And would you all now be part of my family, no, but you are now.”