Guts: Jesse Martin

Yesterday I attended a function where I was fortunate enough to listen to, then chat briefly with Jesse Martin, whose sailing feats a dozen years ago set world records.

It was one of those functions where time passes so quickly that as Jesse’s speech came to end, the audience would’ve been happy to have had him keep talking.

Jesse’s speech captivated us all not by the forcefulness of his records, which he barely mentioned; but by his complete lack of ego, his serene-like belief he could achieve anything he put his mind to; and by his honest, rational approach to risk-taking.

It was funny, it was fun, and it was a privilege to have heard it.

Jesse’s story has been told and his feats recorded, but for him, it seemed like the latter weren’t the big deal – though the record he achieved was a motivator (but in a way that allowed him to do what he really wanted to do – to sail around the world). Jesse spoke openly and honestly about the fears he held and the maturity he recognised in himself, especially as he neared home.

The way he communicated with his audience which, pleasingly, included a table of primary-aged children up the front, was great – but it was his very matter of fact approach that stood out for me. Here was someone who could’ve bragged and ego-loaded his speech and still been applauded. Here was someone who could’ve made his journey out to be one of international policy significance. It was neither.

Jesse was humble, he was raw – and he was real. Really, really good.

‘Celebrity’ in 2010 encompasses Australian ‘Idols’, Master Chefs and teenage You Tube wonders; from [insert your footy code of choice favourite player here], to fake politicians on Twitter becoming mainstream (and thanks ‘Godwin Grech’ for the recent follow – whoever you are?!). I’ve nothing per se against ‘celebrity’ – I just don’t get into the Hollywood ‘thang’ – i.e. oh-my-god-did-you-hear?-Some-f-list-celeb-has-called-her-dog-‘Cat’-wow-golly.

One of things I like about Australia is that we recognise our heros – our ‘real’ heros – those who have made a difference or inspired others by their actions – in many, varied ways. Say whatever you like about Canberra, but its suburbs are named after Australian icons – Howard Florey, John Curtin, John Monash, Neville Bonner and countless others. The ‘fathers’ of Federation – Sir Edmund Barton, Sir Henry Parkes, Sir John Forrest are appropriately recognised. And if you want to know the history behind your street in Canberra? – well, there’s a book that tells you! In Melbourne, ‘Monash’ is an eastern-suburban municipality, Victoria’s second-oldest university, a freeway, a hospital and a selective secondary science school. Without Monash, there would arguably be no Shrine of Remembrance.

There’s nothing wrong with having heros; people whose values and personal qualities you admire – mine, for instance, range from Robbie Flower from the Melbourne Football Club of 1980s; statesmen like Monash, Curtin and Menzies; to modern-day people including Barack Obama, Justin Langer, Adam Gilchrist, Petro Georgiou; and Dr Chris Hayes and Rick Sidorko – two headmasters I worked with in my last role in Canberra.

Like each of these people in their own way, Jesse Martin DID something. He got up, looked himself in the eye, and just DID it. That’s what the audience took from listening to Jesse yesterday – his unassuming courage, his considered approach to challenges, and his humble and honest belief in himself.

Jesse’s feats remind me of my favourite – and most inspiring piece of public art in Wellington, New Zealand, with words by Lauris Edmond:

“It’s true you cannot live here by chance, you have to do and be, not simply watch or even describe. This is the city of action, the world headquarters of the verb.”

In the midst of all the excitement over the World Cup; the finals looming ever closer for MasterChef (which I watch avidly!); and the prospect of an engrossing summer of cricket; it was great to be able to step back and reflect on someone, who unlike most of us, has DONE something.

As the lunch ended, the audience moved aside as the sailing-obsessed kids nervously took their autographs books over and proffered them nervously to Jesse. He signed each one, spoke to each of the kids as an equal and thanked them for coming to listen to him. He seemed genuinely chuffed they’d be interested.

I bet those kids will never forget the day they met Jesse Martin. And neither – to be honest as one J.Martin is added to the metaphoric hero list – will I.

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