After Capt. David Rozelle lost his right foot in combat in June 2003, he'd certainly earned retirement and the nation's gratitude. But Rozelle wasn't done. He worked tirelessly in rehabilitation until he was so proficient using his prosthetic foot that he could compete in a triathlon. This year, he met another goal he'd set: returning to active duty to help Iraqis gain freedom and security. By going back to Iraq, he became the first amputee in recent military history to resume a dangerous command on the same battlefield on which he was injured.
But in the end, we selected Victoria Ruvolo of Lake Ronkonkoma, New York, as our Most Inspiring Person of 2005.
Part of what so moved us about Ruvolo was the excruciatingly random nature of her tragedy. It could have happened to any of us. Nov. 13, 2004, Ruvolo was just driving home from work when her world collapsed. A group of teenagers had stolen a credit card and gone on a joy ride with some of the items they'd bought. They thought it would be amusing to throw a frozen turkey into moving traffic. The turkey smashed through Ruvolo's windshield, shattering her face and nearly killing her. She spent a month in a medically induced coma, had extensive cosmetic surgery to reconstruct her face, and was released still dependent on a tracheotomy tube to breathe.
In the face of such suffering at the hands of another person, most of us would be filled with deep, unquenchable rage. Ruvolo instead consoled the teenager who had done this to her, Ryan Cushing. And on Oct. 17, 2005, at Cushing's sentencing, she asked the judge for leniency and read the following statement: "Despite all the fear and the pain, I have learned from this horrific experience, and I have much to be thankful for.... Each day when I wake up, I thank God simply because I am alive. I sincerely hope you have also learned from this awful experience, Ryan. There is no room for vengeance in my life, and I do not believe a long, hard prison term would do you, me, or society any good."
"Kindness and giving is the best way--you get so much more out of life when you give."--Victoria Ruvolo
She was firm with Cushing, pointing out that he deserved some punishment. She said she was giving him a second chance and challenged him "to seek an honorable life."
Ruvolo was raised a Catholic and describes herself as "a spiritual person." A lot of people say they're Christian or practitioners of a particular faith and yet few of us come close to embodying the ideals of our faith. Ruvolo is one of the most Christian Christians we've come across in ages.
"I want to see him grow up and become a good part of society. I always thought you treat people the way you want to be treated," she told Beliefnet. "Kindness and giving is the best way--you get so much more out of life when you give." Instead of dwelling on what she'd lost, she chose to focus on what she'd gained and to take strength from the blessings in her life.
Victoria Ruvolo's humanity puts everything into perspective. If she could forgive Ryan Cushing for what he did, can't we forgive our friends or enemies for wrongs much less heinous? If she can manage to quell her anger, summon such wisdom, and sense gratitude in the wake of such a calamity, can't we do the same in less difficult situations? We look at Victoria Ruvolo and we all feel ennobled, empowered, and grateful. That's why we choose Victoria Ruvolo as the Most Inspiring Person of 2005.