Maddie S.

Second Place Winner

This stranger quickly became my hero. She moved past her personal struggles and spent her life doing the things she loved.

As a young child, I could not always look to my parents for guidance; I was living in a house divided, and so when I heard of a strong, passionate woman who, despite her personal struggles, went on to leave an enduring legacy in a misogynistic scientific community, I was enthralled. Fourth grade marked the beginning of my fascination with Joy Adamson.

"Don't be put off by the size of the biographies," my teacher bubbled as she explained our next research assignment, "You never know, y'all might really enjoy this project!" The class groaned, me included. I, like many, ignored her advice in its entirety, and chose a slim book with an attractive cover. "Wild Heart," it was called. However hesitant I may have been at the start, after I was past the first page, I was engrossed. This young Austrian woman had suffered through horrible travesties: marriages and divorces, three miscarriages, and several failed career ambitions. I felt a connection to this woman right away. My family life at that time was more than a mess, and I had turned to loving animals as an escape. So had she. Her life seemed to have been full of adventure; she moved Africa and married a local game warden, studied and sketched resident plants and animals and sometimes resident peoples, but most famously, became the first person to successfully reintroduce a lion back in to the wild. This stranger quickly became my hero. She moved past her personal struggles and spent her life doing the things she loved. Over the next month, I had borrowed and read three more books from the public library about her and purchased all three Born Free movies with my meager savings. Even in the poor quality that comes with a movie made in the late sixties, every time the trio of lion cubs first appeared on screen I would squeal with joy and when the moment finally came for Elsa, the last lioness left with the Adamson's, to be scared off in to the wild, my heartfelt heavy and laden with the grief that Joy must have felt as she saw her only child nervously tearing off into the bush, seemingly abandoned by the only parent she had known.

Picking that book out of dozens turned out to be one of the best choices I could have made. It was far more than just a page turner, something to titillate and be forgotten. It really inspired me to harness the passion for wildlife that Joy Adamson had and study environmental science in college. I want to be able to take her spirit with me and find ways that I can help preserve the natural world for everyone to enjoy. I am so fortunate that I stumbled on the right book at the right time.