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We’ve all daydreamed about a moment of heroism that changes everything. With one dramatic act, we show the world our true selves, clearing the slate of past mistakes and kicking off a fresh start for our lives.
Of course, such musings carry with them some very big questions. If that moment ever really came, what would I do? Would I be ready? Would I flinch?
Jeanne Assam knows the answers to those questions. Five years ago this month, she was volunteering as a security officer at a Colorado Springs church when a heavily armed madman opened fire after Sunday services. As terrified parishioners scattered around her, Assam ran toward the gunman, coolly took aim, and ended his bloody rampage. Instantly, she was the hero she had always imagined herself to be.
But as 5280’s senior staff writer Robert Sanchez discovered when he began reporting “Jeanne Assam is Still Waiting” (page 106), saving countless lives did little to rescue Assam from her own demons. “When it was all said and done, it didn’t magically fix her life,” Sanchez says. “In fact, in a lot of ways, it made things worse.”
Sanchez tells Assam’s story with the compassion and insight that have become his trademarks since joining 5280 in 2007. A prolific writer, Sanchez’s stories are consistently among the magazine’s most memorable, and others have taken notice. He has been honored three times as a finalist for the prestigious Livingston Awards for Young Journalists, and his work has been anthologized twice in The Best American Sports Writing, as well as in Next Wave: America’s New Generation of Great Literary Journalists.
In this wonderfully nuanced portrait of a complicated hero, Sanchez reveals a simple truth that has thus far sadly eluded Assam. “In the most difficult of circumstances, she found it in herself to do what needed to be done,” he says. “Everything she hoped she could be was actually already there.”