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Leap Day: Not Just Another Day for These Historymakers

Leap day. That’s the official name of February 29. For most people, it’s just an extra day on the calendar—one that’s no different than the one before or the one after. For some unique people, though, leap day is an unforgettable moment in their lives. It can be for you too, if you choose to learn from them. Here are a few unique people who were leaders in their day, but their influence continues to have a ripple effect even now.

  • Patrick Hamilton probably won’t be a topic of conversation at dinner, but he might have been if you’d lived in Scotland in the early 1500s. Born of wealthy parents, Hamilton went to college in Paris. While there, he heard about the teachings of Martin Luther, a reformer who preached that people could only get to heaven by faith alone in Jesus. In 1526, Hamilton professed his faith in Christ and began to preach the same message as Luther, which caused him to flee to Germany to avoid arrest. He returned to Scotland in 1527 despite possible persecution, ultimately becoming one of the first martyrs of the Scottish Reformation on February 29, 1528.
  • Meet Hattie McDaniel. You probably know her as Mammy from Gone With the Wind. Why is leap day significant for her? Because on that day in 1940, Hattie won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. She broke the racial barrier in film by becoming the first African American to win an Oscar. Ironically, because of segregation, she couldn’t watch the debut in Atlanta, Georgia, with the other stars in the film.
  • If you’re a sports fan, you might know why February 29 is significant for Gordie Howe. No, he’s not a football player. He played hockey. Rather, he owned the game. He was known as “Mr. Hockey” in his day, probably because of what happened on leap day in 1980. He was the first player in history to score 800 regular season goals in the National Hockey League—and he was 51 years old at the time. Since then, only the legendary Wayne Gretzky has beaten that record.
  • Another sports figure to remember is Norman Thomas “Turkey” Stearnes. On February 29, 2000, he was inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame—more than 20 years after his death. Over his 20-year career, he won six homerun titles, made the all-star team five times, and earned a batting average of .344. (Babe Ruth hit .342 in his career.) He played on 11 different teams and took a second job during the winters because his baseball pay was so poor.

Four unique people with vastly diverse backgrounds and stories all share one thing in common—an extraordinary day in history—because they chose to do hard things. Their stories remind me to push the boundaries, to stand up for my beliefs no matter the cost, to keep going long after others quit, and to follow my passion despite the opposition.

You can’t predict whether or not your actions will inspire anyone else, but you can decide whether you live in determination or in fear. You get to choose whether to step out in courage and conviction or stick with what’s safe and secure.

You get to determine the direction your life takes today—and every other day that lies ahead.

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