Going the Distance

updated 10/24/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 10/24/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Yes! HOLY COW! geewhiz
GOOD GOING! UNBELIEVABLE
Awesome WOW!
Incredible UNFORGETTABLE
ASTONISHING Cowabunga!

EVERY NATION HAS ITS prodigies. In every populace you find dreamers, doers, quiet heroes and not-so-quiet cage rattlers. But would it be too much to suggest that in America our cup runneth over in this department?

Not at all. Maybe you can trace it to the fact that the U.S. is a fairly elastic place, where the bonds of class aren't quite strong enough to strap people down. Maybe it's because underdogs and overachievers have always done well here. (Heck, we might not be putting out this issue if Columbus hadn't been an overachiever.) Or maybe it's just something in the water. Whatever the reason, this country seems to boast more than its share of folks who enthusiastically exert themselves beyond what's expected—and in unexpected ways. You might call them boundless or stubborn or fanciful. We call them amazing.

Our history demanded them. The New World, after all, was a forbidding place, unfamiliar to the Old World settlers who braved their way here. America would prove an inviting destination for expandable souls willing to stretch beyond old limits toward new possibilities. Here life could take on the dimensions of a tall tale: inspiring, perilous, improbable, filled with bold challenges and highly personal rewards.

From colonial days to now, merely dutiful accomplishment has never been enough; we like, and appreciate, people who overdo it. Overreaching is approved of. It's not that there's no one out there to say, "Tut, tut, this time you've gone too far." It's just that the levelers and the limit setters don't have the last word.

The people whose stories appear on the following pages are amazing in a variety of ways, either because of their courage or kindness or faith or simply their sheer refusal to recognize that what they have in mind is really not possible, that they had best give it up right away. No matter how they've distinguished themselves—like Compton, Calif., Councilman Maxcy Filer (left), whose story of his tenacious battle with the state bar exam appears on page 26—their gee-whizardry beckons us. They give us a glimpse of life lived with an exclamation point, at the peak of its possibilities. This is a vision to keep in front of us on days when our best ambitions are preempted by fatigue, a failure of nerve or by the simple need to bring home a paycheck. What we have here are people who remind us of what it is that Americans have always liked most about the tall tale: that some of us keep trying to live up to it.

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