Inspiration can come from anywhere: It might be a far-flung place you can only visit in your imagination, a moment from history that reverberates into the present, or a kindhearted person who lives right across your street. At times 2016 felt dominated by one disturbing headline after another. But stories of the poignant, the sweet and the exhilarating were abundant too. Here are 12 of our favorites.
Combat Wounded Amputees Summit Everest: In May, two separate teams dedicated to war veterans reached the summit of Mt. Everest within days of each other, a bright spot of news in a season that saw six deaths and many more ill or injured climbers. Retired USMC Staff Sergeant Charlie Linville and retired Army Staff Sergeant Chad Jukes became the first two combat-wounded amputees to complete the climb to the world's highest peak. At the top, “I sat down and I cried,” Linville told the Vail Daily newspaper. “I took mementos from fallen brothers to say thank you for their sacrifice. I figured that’s as close as I could ever get to them.” The story was one of several in 2016—the Orlando Invictus Games was another—that highlighted incredible acts of perseverance and recovery by wounded veterans.
Remembering the Quiet Man Who Changed History for 669 Children: Nicholas Winton was a 29-year-old stockbroker in Britain who took it upon himself to arrange the transport of hundreds of children out of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s. In May, nearly a year after his death at 106, more than 100 people touched by Winton’s life traveled from around the world to a memorial service. Kurt Taussig, one of the people Winton saved and now 92 years old, told the BBC he would have “swum an ocean” to be at the service. For an unforgettable illustration of the far-reaching impact one man’s actions can have, watch this clip of the 1980s show that placed an unsuspecting Winton within a studio audience filled with those rescuees 50 years later.
Journalist Risks Everything to Help the Disadvantaged in Her Native India: Priyanka Dubey, at 28 years old, is at the forefront of a new wave of feminist journalism in India that has helped push the shocking level of violence against Indian women onto front pages around the world. Inspire Confidence profiled in her 2016, shortly after she had won the Knight International Journalism Award, one of the field’s top honors. Don’t miss the companion Q&A with Dubey, where she talks about overcoming formidable obstacles to follow her passion.
At 90, She Embarked on the Ultimate Road Trip: Norma Bauerschmidt died this year at age 91, but not before making a remarkable decision that inspired thousands of people. The previous autumn, at age 90, Norma lost her husband. Then two days later she got a diagnosis of cancer. Rather than spend her remaining time in a hospital, she decided to embark on a road trip with her son and daughter-in-law. Read the interview with her daughter-in-law here, see photos from the journey, and see the touching response Norma sparked when she returned home to visit her husband’s grave.
Ice Cream Man Trades Treats for Thank-You Notes: James Karagiannis didn't like turning away kids without money from his ice cream stand. So he started a funding drive and has been flooded with donations—but in order to get a free treat, a kid has to write a postcard thanking a donor. According to his Facebook page, James the Ice Creamcycle Dude has given ice cream to nearly 10,000 kids who wouldn’t have been able to afford it otherwise, and postcards have gone out to all 50 states and 10 countries.
In Race After Race, Jamie Watts Wins While Finishing Last: With her determination to complete 34 races in the year before she turned 34 despite having cerebral palsy, Jamie Watts has become a local fixture and hero on the running scene. To keep following her relentless stride, follow her Facebook page, Jamie Runs the World.
Policing Done Right: Tommy Norman: Although 2016 saw far too many dark stories about racial tensions and violence between police and the communities they’re meant to protect, some departments stepped up their efforts to connect with people. We highlighted a few of those efforts in this summer story,
How Road Trips Taught a Father to 'Love That Boy': Check out this engaging conversation with Ron Fournier, a political columnist who has written in his new book about confronting his son's diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome and the road trips that brought them closer together.
With Cash and a Coalition, Greg Carr Is Out to Save a Wild, Beautiful Place: Writer Andrea Kannapell captures in her March profile why the philanthropist has been able to succeed as a foreigner in marshaling a team to restore the Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique. First established as a hunting reserve in 1920, Gorongosa’s wildlife suffered from civil strife and devastation from the late 1970s into the 1990s before Carr and others worked to bring the area back to life.
Giving Homes to Recovering Troops and Their Families: In 2016, a vision of free housing for war-wounded veterans and their families neared completion. The Leroy Petry Village of Honor, located in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, will have seven fully accessible single-family homes when it is complete in 2017. Initiated by Feherty’s Troops First Foundation, the project is named for Sergeant First Class Leroy Petry, who received a Medal of Honor for his bravery during 2008 battle in Afghanistan.
Slowing Down the City Rush: Date While You Wait: Witnessing a disconnect in public spaces, several people took to the streets in 2016 to try to open up a dialogue—or at least make people smile. The most memorable of these is Charles Knox, who set up a card table with games and flowers in the New York City subway to engage passersby. He became a mini-sensation in the process, and has added public speaking and charity campaigns to his efforts.
Teen Hospice Patient Gets Private Florence Welch Concert: Suffering from bone cancer, Karinya Chen was unable to attend a May show by her favorite act, Florence and the Machine, in Austin, Texas. So Florence came to her. You'll never hear "Shake It Out" the same way after watching the surprise performance, which brought smiles, laughter, and tears. Chen passed away in October. Shortly before her death, she told Austin’s KXAN, “If you take it one day at a time ... don’t take things for granted, and tell yourself that you are loved and you are blessed, then it makes it a lot easier to fight.”