From daredevils to Good Samaritans: 9 people who made 2014 count
Into the fire
When it comes to literally falling into a burning ring of fire, George Kourounis has probably come as close as anyone. In August, he and his fellow explorer Sam Cossman became the first two people to ever step foot inside Marum crater – a boiling lake of lava in the archipelago of Vanuatu. Along the way, they managed to capture one hell of a selfie!
Man’s best friend
But while some people will risk their own lives for the thrill, others do everything they can to save creatures big and small from a less than charmed life. Amanda Bird came to Sochi as a spokeswoman for the American bobsled and skeleton team. And while all eyes were on who brought home Olympic gold, she made her own waves through a long and difficult struggle to bring home one of Sochi’s many stray dogs. Her quest to bring a dog named “Sochi” from Russia to her home in Nashville was a long one. In the end, she herself said it wasn’t just about compassion for a dog, but compassion “for one another.” In her own words: “Isn’t that what the Olympics teaches us?”
Just as Amanda’s heart guided her to give a dog shelter, environmental activist Vera Scroggins made it her mission to be compassionate to the Earth as a whole. But her peaceful anti-fracking activism has put her on a crash course with Cabot Oil and Gas Corporation, which is seeking to fine and imprison Scroggins for defying an injunction barring her from areas near its well sites in Pennsylvania. But Scroggins has gotten another day in court, with a judge recently ruling she could present more testimony and evidence to determine if the injunction holds water.
Braving jail for activism
The battle against the big and powerful is, of course, a universal experience. After serving two years in prison for taking part in unauthorized protests, Bahraini human rights activist Nabeel Rajab was released from prison in November, though he has been barred from leaving the country. Now that he’s free Rajab has vowed to continue his fight, saying there is no “bargaining” when it comes to his human rights work. “The struggle has to continue for justice and democracy.”
A court in Manama ordered Rajab’s release but barred him from leaving the country. His next hearing will be on January 20. Rajab is the director of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, and was freed in May after serving two years for taking part in unauthorized protests.
Arrested – for feeding the homeless
Arnold Abbot is a 90-year-old war veteran who has been feeding homeless people in the streets of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for some 23 years. But after the city council pushed through laws strictly regulating the practice of public feeding with threat of fines and imprisonment, Abbot felt had no choice but to get arrested, standing up for his beliefs.
“I am not afraid at all. I was a combat infantryman for 2 1/2 years. I’ve spent 50 years fighting for civil rights for the minorities in this country. I don’t have the slightest fear of being arrested,” he told RT. “The only thing I am concerned about is that there would be nobody to feed the homeless outdoors, which is what I do – and what I intend to do as long as there is breath in my body.” Right on, Arnold!
Matt Taylor is a British scientist who made history by helping land the European Space Agency’s Philae lander on a comet over 400 million kilometers from Earth. Back on Earth, Taylor nearly overshadowed an accomplishment of cosmic proportions by wearing a T-shirt with pin-up girls bearing firearms to a press conference. Some hated him for it, others defended the eccentric scientist, but few could disagree that a historic event in human history was partially eclipsed by the smallness of our nature.
For many, the acronym ISIS became synonymous with the devil incarnate. But for those named after the Egyptian goddess who epitomized the ideal mother, equating their name with the Islamist militant group was outright blasphemous. Isis Martinez decided not to take the slight sitting down, kickstarting a campaign to take her name back from the jihadists. But while she has so far failed to win her name back, her fight to maintain honor and dignity for the name that both she and thousands of other women share is commendable.
Palestinian teen tweeting from frontline
At the tender age of 16, Farah Baker has already survived three wars in the Gaza Strip, which are three wars too many in her opinion. Living a stone’s throw away from Gaza's Al-Shifa Hospital, she has been given a front row view of the atrocities of battle. She generated an unexpected social media buzz after documenting her experiences on Twitter, with 189,000 followers now eager to catch a glimpse of her unique voice on the conflict.
While I was checking my old tweets I remembered those photos which summarize the hardest days of my life pic.twitter.com/lxNTsyrE9C
— Guess What (@Farah_Gazan) December 8, 2014
“This is in my area. I can't stop crying. I might die tonight,” she harrowingly wrote during the 2014 Israeli invasion of Gaza. Luckily for her and for us, she made it through that dark, dark night.
On top of the world
Scaling 121 stories of steel girders takes nerves of steel, as two unflappable daredevils – Vitaly Raskalov and his partner Vadim Makhorov – proved on January 31 when they scaled Shanghai Tower. A YouTube video of the vertiginous ordeal has already gotten 38 million views and sent more than one person into vicarious fits of vertigo.
When asked why he risked life and limb to scale the heights of man-made structures, Raskalov said he merely liked seeing the world from “unusual angles.” But for anyone willing to attempt such a feat, his point of view has probably always been far away from that of the average man.