And now I’d like Cyrus Vakili-Rad to come forward.
I’d like to say something here in general about my relationship with members of the crew. This isn’t the very first time I’ve said it and it won’t be the last but if you stay in the crew a while, I will love you as my own son or daughter. I do love everyone in the crew. That doesn’t mean I don’t get frustrated, just as parents occasionally do. But I do feel strong affection for these youth. And while some might think that my affections are stronger for the girls, that isn’t true. I’ve spoken before about the fact that the females in the crew over the years have become surrogate daughters because of my own moving out of the state when she was 14. But I feel just as much love for the guys because many of them are magnificent young leaders.
And the young man before me is a prime example. Now he’s a bit different, I’ll grant you that. And we first realized that on our first AT trek a couple years back. It was Cyrus first adventure with us and our first day was pretty much all uphill in very muggy weather with full packs. And Cyrus scampered up the trail like some sort of human billy goat. He quickly caught the eye of Jeff Nates, who is not really human himself and whose idea of a restful lunch break is a 7-mile run.
In fact, I think it was Jeff who first came up with the name of spider-pig for Cyrus, an affectionate label for someone who’s not just athletic but possesses some gravity-defying qualities. That calls to mind two different Cyrus stories and I could spend the entire night talking about him. Of all our honorees, he is by far the easiest to write about because there is a wealth of material.
Anyway, one of the reasons for Mr. Nates’ superlatives was Cyrus’ rock climbing skills. And so one day on Crowder Mountain Cyrus and myself were bringing up the rear (he had run down the mountain to help someone then run back up it. He loves to run) and I led Cyrus down a path I thought to be a shortcut to the others. It eventually became apparent that my path was in fact below the cliffs with no apparent trail leading up to where they were. So we walked a little further and Cyrus spotted some rock face he thought we could climb easily. Now when Cyrus or Mr. Nates tells you something is easy, take that with a mine of salt. Mr. Nates runs triathalons for fun. But I felt in an adventurous mood and climbed beside him. I should point out that free-climbing, climbing without a rope, harness or helmet, is not allowed by BSA – something I have to keep reminding John Yost – but I didn’t think it would go that far and hoped no one would see us.
About halfway up I realized with all the intelligence of a rock that my hiking stick was not helping in my climb and that if I lost my grip, I would not be going on any more outings. I also noticed that Cyrus had climbed the rockface as if he was walking up an escalator. Then I heard some of the girls calling out to us. They were perched on a cliff overlooking our ascent and someone was taking pictures. What an award-winning photo it would be, I thought, if I fell to my death right now. But Cyrus came over and took my hiking stick and I survived the climb.
The other memory I have of his skills was on our first AT trip. We were staying at a hostel and there was a tree out front and of course Cyrus decided to climb it. I have spent much of the last two years asking Cyrus to come down from trees. Anyway, I watched once as he took off in a run and literally ran sideways up the tree to get close enough to a branch he could climb on. It was the craziest feat I had ever witnessed.
I could spend the night talking about Cyrus’ hard-charging abilities. And when it came time to name him I thought seriously about the Hopi name for spirit warrior, because another translation is of a Hopi mythological creature. I figured that would please Mr. Nates. But there are other sides to Cyrus and other name possibilities. The priest at St. Simon gave us one idea when he praised Cyrus on Scout Sunday after Cyrus read some scripture, calling him the “Voice of God.”
But I preferred to focus on a side of Cyrus at the heart of the award he received earlier tonight.
You see, as fun as he is to watch perform these athletic feats, he’s even more fun to watch as a leader. Because Cyrus knows that at the core of leadership is a relationship with those who follow. I remember our Labor Day trip last fall and how Holden came unglued and Cyrus spent a lot of time talking to him. And he was fine after that. And when we’ve had some other guys who were not doing what they were supposed to, Cyrus gathered them in a group and had a talk. None of them were in trouble after that.
But my favorite memory of Cyrus of all time occurred on our Swamp Fox backpacking trip. We hiked 16 miles. And Sunday morning it was pouring rain. Not a fun hike and not everyone was prepared. When one member of the crew had soggy shoes, Cyrus gave him his and chose to walk barefoot for the last several miles. When a new member of the group struggled with his pack, Cyrus took some heavy items out and carried them in his pack. I will always remember the sight of Cyrus walking beside the road in that final couple miles, barefoot with a heavy pack, literally carrying the burdens of others, a smile on his face.
That is the heart of Cyrus, willing to give what he has to help others. He is a friend to all. So I searched for a Native American name that would apply and found one with a bonus. I knew I had found the perfect name when it came with a meaning in Persian. You see, Cyrus is of Iranian descent. So this sealed it. So it is my honor tonight, Cyrus, to name you Nikan, which in Powatomi means “my friend” and in Persian means “he who brings good things.”