Epic men are both inspired and inspiring.
They break the mold, going left when society tells them to go right. They see possibilities where others see roadblocks. They strive to be the best they can. They push boundaries and jump hurdles, tearing down walls and building bridges in the process.
Simply put, they fill the gap between the possible and impossible.
Can you think of any men like this? We can. This is just a start, but the following are three of the most epic men of the 21st century—5amers, in their own right:
1) Felix Baumgertner
When people talk about breaking barriers, most aren’t referring to sound barriers.
Baumgertner became the first man to do just that on Oct. 14, 2012, jumping from a helium-filled balloon at 128,100 feet, reaching speeds of 833.9 miles per hour during his descent.
At one point during his four-minute free fall, he lost control and began spinning wildly. Thanks to dedicated training and sheer willpower, he was able to remain conscious and maneuver out of the deadly spin.
His five years of preparation and support from NASA and Red Bull allowed him to do what no man had ever done before—all this while providing scientific data that will help the world’s astronauts for centuries to come.
2) Nelson Mandela
Born Rolihlahla Mandela on July 18, 1918 in the village of Mvezo Transkei, Nelson Mandela will always be remembered as a man of vision, courage and compassion.
Son of the acting king of the Thembu people, Mandela reveled in the stories of his ancestors’ bravery during wars of resistance. He’d follow a similar trend, dedicating his life to the fight for his people’s freedom and an end to apartheid.
Despite attending multiple universities and struggling with his studies, Mandela completed his Bachelor of Arts in 1943. He received his law degree in 1952 and, with the help of Olive Tambo, went on to establish South Africa’s first black law firm.
His initial experience with politics came in 1944 when he joined the African National Congress and helped form the ANC Youth League. He became president of the ACN, and pushed the group toward a more radical approach—protesting unjust racial laws with both non-violent and violent protests and tactics.
In 1962, Mandela and 165 other rebel leaders were arrested and tried for conspiring to overthrow the South African government.
The letters he wrote in jail voicing his thoughts, beliefs and dreams for justice are legendary. Additionally, his 27 years in prison acted as symbol of defiance against unjust apartheid laws.
In 1994, year after his release, he became the first black president in South Africa’s first-ever open election. A man of his word, he stepped down after one term in 1999.
The world lost a giant on Dec. 5, 2013, but his determination to seek out and end oppression will live on for centuries to come—a life well lived, to say the least.
3) Stephen Hawking
Born on Jan. 8, 1942 in Oxford, England, Stephen Hawking is the world’s foremost authority on theoretical physics and cosmology. His genius is matched only by an overwhelming drive to discover the mysteries of the universe and a resolve to not let his debilitating condition sidetrack personal ambition.
Diagnosed with ALS at the age of 21, he has been confined to a wheelchair and reliant on a computerized voice system for the majority of his life.
Despite these limitations, Hawking has continued his life’s work.
The end result? Twelve honorary degrees and awards such as the Commander of the Order of the British Empire from the United Kingdom and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from the United states, among others.
Along with Roger Penrose, Hawking unified general relativity and quantum theory by showing that space and time would begin with the Big Bang and end in black holes.
As a result, he discovered that black holes are not, as the term implies, entirely black. Instead, they emit radiation and evaporate until they disappear.
He has theorized that the universe itself is edgeless and endless.
With scientific accomplishments too numerous to fully recount, an extensive list of publications, a voracious travel and lecture schedule and an active family life, this inspiring scientist is far from finished …
Believe it or not, he still dreams of going into space one day.
Mandela, Hawking and Baumgertner—three absolutely epic men in a sea of 21st century innovators. Now, the question begs to be asked—have you found your purpose?