Horatio Alger Success Stories
A Personal Biography of Ben Sandy
My childhood was without my real father. For reasons I still do not know, my mother divorced my father while I was still in diapers. Growing up through high school, I had four stepfathers, none of whom I could ever really call “dad.” I suppose I would have turned out differently if I had a “dad” but, thinking about it now, I don’t know how I would be a better person. It seemed like my mom was on a mission while my sister and I were growing up; a mission that many single moms know of in their hearts—survive, and survive at all costs. I know for a fact my mother did not love some of the male figures in my life. She married to survive and to provide a “stable environment” for my sister and me. I must give my mother credit because she did whatever she had to do for us, even if it meant marrying someone she did not love. Granted, this does not sound morally correct, but for a single mom with two kids, trying to pay rent, feed our mouths and put clothes on our backs, she was resourceful. At one point, between marriages, my mother held three jobs in order for me and my sister to have a roof over our heads, food on the table, and a safe living environment. I sometimes wonder what inner strength she had to keep going and to provide for us kids, how she did it all those years, how she would not give up, how she managed to hide how hard she was working for us. When you are a kid, you might not realize grown-up things, like what love is and the meaning of money and paying bills. I look back now and am saddened at times by the way my sister and I acted toward our mother. She was doing everything she could to provide for us, and she did provide the necessities.
I believe my life was defined between stepfathers three and four. This period of time is when my mom was working three jobs: a morning paper route (paid about $179 a month) that I helped her with, her full-time job working for the state, and her evening job working with handicapped adults. I was in sixth grade, a new apartment and new school. I did not like the new school because all the kids had grown up with each other and I was the outsider. However, the P.E. teacher was new to the school too, and I just happened to like P.E. class. Regardless, before the first half of the school year was over, I convinced my mom to let me go back to my old school and finish out the year. By the start of seventh grade, my mom was running ragged working three jobs, so she asked me if I wanted to take over the paper route and I said yes. I don’t recall if I ever gave her any money, but I guess she made additional sacrifices so she didn’t have to work three jobs. This was my first experience with responsibility. Until tenth grade, I regularly delivered newspapers to about 120 clients. My mom would help when the snow was heavy in the winter, or when I woke up late. Even though I set my alarm clock for 4:15 in the morning, at 4:30 I would hear a thumping on the ceiling. My mom was getting me up. I cannot help but think that walking and riding my bike all those miles delivering newspapers contributed in some way to my athletic abilities.
To my surprise when entering P.E. class in seventh grade, I discovered the same P.E. teacher I met at the other school I did not like. This teacher became my best adult friend. I consider him both a father figure and a big brother. He taught me life skills that I was not getting at home, which was no fault of my mother because I spent so much time around him at school and playing after-school sports. My P.E. teacher and I were around each other all the time. Our friendship has spanned from when I babysat his son while he was in diapers, to seeing his second child become a senior in high school. He helped shape and guide my life as I know it through his friendship, loyalty, honestly, and willingness to go above and beyond being a P.E. teacher. His compassion has shown me that no matter how small a gesture or comment, or how rich or poor you are, your actions will and do affect others around you. He inspired me, early in our friendship, to work hard in school and go after my dreams in athletics.
Once I started high school, my mom met her fourth husband and, after a year of living with him, they decided to purchase a bed and breakfast and a laundromat in Newcastle, Wyoming. In hopes of remaining at my old high school, I stayed back in Cheyenne and lived with friends over the summer while my mom and stepfather moved. Ultimately, I moved to Newcastle as well. By the time we moved, my sister was out of the house and I was the lone child. I was successful in academics and athletics in Newcastle and was able to make new friends, but it was not the same without my good friend and mentor—my P.E. teacher.
Call it fate or destiny, but after living in Newcastle for just two years, during my senior year of high school, Newcastle was to host the Horatio Alger Scholarship for the entire state of Wyoming. Somehow I was given the application to submit my essay and with encouragement from certain teachers, I applied and made the final cut. I received the school’s nomination as their first choice, was told of receiving the scholarship in a school assembly, was off to Washington, D.C., and then went on to college.
I earned my Bachelor of Arts degree in Physical Education from Dana College in Blair, Nebraska and was a four time All-American in cross country and track, and a four time Academic All-American. After college I ran for a year, training to make the Olympic marathon trials, but, with limited funds and my then girlfriend working more than she was running, I eventually enlisted in the U.S. Army. I married my wife one week before basic training. I spent three years in the Army before deciding to join the U.S. Air Force. I was granted an Air Force ROTC scholarship at the University of Nebraska-Omaha and, for the next two years, I worked toward earning my Master’s degree in Recreation Administration. Upon graduation, I also earned my commission as an officer in the U.S. Air Force.
Immediately afterward, I was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Nebraska. For the past three and a half years, I’ve been working full-time as a Personnel Officer, and doing my best to continue my training for the Olympic trials marathon. Although this task is often daunting and unrelenting, I’m doing the best I can with the time I have outside of work and striving to stay focused and positive. Ideally, I would like to train full-time like most Olympic athletes, but I learned in my senior year of high school not to give up because anything is possible.