Heroes-they’re hard to find these days. Just when you think you’ve spotted one, they rob, steal, cheat, or do something even more mind-boggling, and then you’re left back at the lost-and-found box, searching around for a role model or someone to be inspired by.

He’s an alcoholic. She’s a drug addict. He’s a chauvinist. She’s an anti-Semite. He likes to dress up as Cher and sing Broadway show tunes on the street corner. She likes to toss unwrapped Butterfingers into the community pool when no one is looking.

You get the point.

It’s not always easy being positively inspired by someone, especially someone in sports. The pickings are slim. The steroid scandal more or less wiped out the sluggers in pro baseball. Then there were the corked bats, stolen signs, pine-tarred hands … need I say more?

That’s why Fenwick High School junior Kevin Harrington chose Cubs radio broadcaster Ron Santo as his hero. It was last year, during second semester, when Harrington’s speech teacher, Andrew Arellano, assigned his class to give a 2-minute speech on someone who has inspired them.

It was Santo from the beginning for Harrington, but not for the reasons you might think. It wasn’t so much Santo’s athletic prowess as a slugging third baseman for the Cubs (1960-73) that inspired Harrington. It was Santo’s attitude and perseverance during a turbulent time in his life that inspired the 16-year-old from River Forest (also, he confesses, it was the fact that Arellano is a Sox fan: “I sort of wanted to stick it to him.”)

Harrington could relate to Santo’s struggles with diabetes, a disease that has taken portions of both the former baseball star’s legs. In eighth grade, Harrington was diagnosed with epilepsy. At the time, he endured about 15 seizures, and spent about two weeks in the hospital where doctors tried to induce another seizure so they might pinpoint the problem. He was subjected to sleep deprivation and exhaustion.

I don’t know about you, but I would have been coiled up in my bed, pouring tears onto my Speed Racer comforter. But that’s just me.

“It was a terribly uncomfortable time then, but he never complained,” says Marigayle Harrington, Kevin’s mother. “He never said ‘why me?’ He was just, ‘Tell me what I need to do, and I will do it.'”

To make matters worse, Harrington couldn’t shower without someone standing by the door, and had to wear a skateboard helmet all day long for three months.

“It was humiliating, embarrassing,” says the devoted Cubs fan, “but really a small price to pay to make sure I wasn’t going to accidentally hurt myself.”

He hasn’t had a seizure since, which could be from the light medication he takes, or perhaps he’s outgrown the epilepsy. Last month, Harrington, an aspiring sports broadcaster, was named WGN radio’s “Kid of the Week,” where he was able to deliver his speech about Santo live on the Steve Cochran show.

Makes you sort of wonder who was inspiring whom.

CONTACT: bspencer@wjinc.com

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Brad Spencer

Brad Spencer has been covering sports in and around Oak Park for more than a decade, which means the young athletes he once covered in high school are now out of college and at home living with their parents...