Thursday, March 1, 2007

2007 Triathlete Magazine Humanitarian Award: U.S. Navy Lieutenant Andrew Baldwin, M.D.

For those of us who didn't make it to the Competitor Awards, here is Andy's Speech:

"Thank you. I am honored and quite shocked actually to be receiving this award tonight. I by no means consider myself a celebrity, and more of a normal human being who enjoys doing triathlons, being a good person and helping out the world as a Navy physician. I would like to start off by acknowledging the person who is truly to thank, who has allowed all of this to happen (trip to Laos, Bachelor, etc.) and that is my Commanding Officer of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit ONE, CDR Dan Colman. I am honored to have my Captain in the audience tonight, so Sir if you could please stand. Applaud. Thank you so much sir for all of your support. I wouldn’t be standing up here tonight if it weren’t for you.

I was raised small town Amish country of Pennsylvania, in a family that did not have much, but who did instill in me the values that I live with to this day, and the most important one is the service ethic. Part of every conversation I heard growing up included the words “how can I help you”?

I believe this is the underlying reason that I decided to serve my country as a Naval Officer, and took on the challenge of becoming a medical doctor to serve others in need. It is the underlying reason behind my desire to go to third world countries on humanitarian missions, work in a free health clinics, and volunteer my time to help with the Special Olympics. We are incredibly fortunate to have been given the gifts we have, to have a roof over our heads, and to live in the United States of America. I feel it is important to at times be willing to self-sacrifice to help out others who don’t have these luxuries.

As endurance athletes we are extremely dedicated individuals, putting countless hours into training and competing. It is important that we give some of that energy back to the people who need it most.

That is why I spent five weeks in the remote mountain regions of Laos, sleeping in a tent with giant beetles, ants and the occasional tarantula, bathing in the river, and dealing with the incessant leeches to help out a population of people who were suffering from intestinal parasites, malaria, dengue fever, and malnutrition. We would penetrate into the jungle, drop in out of the helicopter with our backpacks and machetes, and cut a landing zone for the helo to safely put down with the supplies, then hike a number of miles to where the patients lay waiting. The gratitude, the smiles on their faces, the awe and wonderment of them seeing a white person, of seeing themselves for the first time on the digital readout of a camera, of being given a Flintstone vitamin, of receiving the benefit of rudimentary 1st world medication was priceless. When treating one woman, I asked her how many children she had, and she made sure to clarify, do you mean how many times did I give birth, or how many children do I currently have? Because half of them died. These people’s entire lives revolve around the rice harvest cycle. They’re major aim is to put food on the table each day, and they are happy. It was incredibly impactual to see such a simple society with none of our Western world luxuries, living in such a state of bliss, while back home we can be such a melancholy society who enjoys so much materially. It is important to take a step back, look at things in perspective, and celebrate what matters most- our health, our families and our relationships with one another. And I will give you a challenge, from now on every time you interact with someone else, include these four simple words “How can I help?” You’ll be amazed at how it will change your life. "

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