Baltimore Sun

Vote for most inspirational of 2009 is asking readers to identify the Most Inspiring Person of the Year for 2009.

As the Web site puts it: The Most Inspiring Person of the Year award is bestowed upon someone who has risen above expectations. He or she may have demonstrated courage, forgiveness, self-sacrifice or love under difficult and challenging circumstances – or simply spread life-affirming joy in a creative and uplifting way."


The 10 finalists include actor and embryonic stem cell research advocate Michael J. Fox, USAir pilot Chesley Sullenberger, the couple who turned the YouTube popularity of their wedding dance into a fundraising tool to combat domestic violence, the Iranian protesters who took to the streets after the disputed reelection of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and a slew of folks who did good in their communities.

Readers may vote once daily. More details are available at


Last year's honoree was the late Carnegie Mellon Prof. Randy Pausch, whose inspirational final lecture, which he delivered while suffering from terminal cancer, became a bestselling book. Reocognized in previous years were the slain Virginia Tech Prof. Liviu Librescu, who held off gunman Sieung-Hui Cho long enough to allow all but one of his students to escape to safety, and the Amish Community of Nickel Mines, Pa., for what called "their remarkable spirit of forgiveness" following the murder of five young girls.

"It's simply breathtaking how one true act of selflessness can inspire and encourage an entire nation—sometimes even the world—in empowering and life-affirming ways," Michael Kress, Beliefnet's managing editor, said in a statement. "While this year has been a tough one for many, each of 10 our nominees have revealed an amazing inner spirit and sense of caring and concern for others. Their selfless actions remind us of the strength and resilience of the human spirit, and inspire each of us to do better, be better and live life fully."

A listing and descriptions (from of this year's nominees, after the jump.

• Michael J. Fox -- Celebrity Activist for Parkinson's Disease and "Incurable Optimist"

In his long struggle with Parkinson's disease, actor and author Michael J. Fox has never given in to the darkness of the disease. Instead, he uses it to rally people around the world in a fight against the degenerative brain illness. Even in the face of debilitating condition and the uncertainty of a cure he has raised more than $154 million dollars and is a vocal advocate for stem cell research.

• Captain "Sully" Sullenberger -- "Hero of the Hudson" Saved Everyone on Board His Plane

Minutes after takeoff, both engines of US Airways Flight 1549 went dead, and Capt. Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, the commanding pilot, knew he had just moments to save the 155 people aboard. Capt. Sullenberger, 58, is nominated for his display of grace under pressure and devotion to duty. He has been lauded by everyone from presidents to his hometown fire department in Danville, Calif.

• Kaleb Eulls -- High School Student Saved His Classmates' Lives


When Kaleb Eulls, 18, saw a girl waving a gun around on a school bus, he didn't stop to think. Eulls, one of the best high school quarterbacks in Mississippi, tackled the girl and allowed the 20 passengers to escape unharmed. He is nominated for having the courage to put himself in harm's way to save others.

• Zach Bonner -- Sixth-Grader Raises Money and Awareness for Homeless Children

Last year, 12-year-old Zach Bonner, of Tampa, Fla., made a 1200-mile "My House to the White House" walk to raise money to house homeless youth. This year, he has set off on a coast-to-coast walk to benefit a Boys' and Girls' Club in Los Angeles. From the time he was six years old, Zach has been on a mission; he's collected bottled water for hurricane victims, filled backpacks with food, toys and essentials for homeless children, in an active conviction that no one is ever too young to change the world.

• Jill and Kevin's Wedding Dance -- Couple Spreads Joy and Combats Domestic Violence

Last June, bride-to-be Jill Peterson, her fiancé Kevin Heinz and 16 wedding attendants captured their wedding dance on video, releasing a flood of happiness that spread way beyond their St. Paul, Minn., church as the video went viral, garnering more than 32 million views on YouTube. The couple turned their inspirational video into an anti-domestic violence fundraising tool.

• Jorge Munoz -- Bus Driver Spends Half His Salary on Feeding the Hungry


Jorge Munoz uses his modest salary as a school bus driver to buy food, help cook it and personally deliver it to hungry people living in Queens, N.Y. -- every day, rain or shine. Munoz, 45, organized a nonprofit organization called "An Angel in Queens" to serve more than 140 meals to the homeless through his own resources and small donations from local vendors.

• Air Force Maj. Tobin Griffeth and Capt. Katie Illingworth―Football Rivals Rally in Support of Afghanistan Families

Air Force officers Maj. Tobin Griffeth and Capt. Katie Illingworth, serving at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan, turned the Battle of the Red River -- a football rivalry between the University of Texas Longhorns and the University of Oklahoma Sooners -- into Operation Red River Cares, a charity drive that supplies warm clothes, shoes and school supplies for suffering Afghans.

• Paul Levy -- Boston Hospital CEO Slashed Salary and Engaged Staff to Keep People Working

In a year of devastating budget cuts, Paul Levy, CEO of Boston's Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, was faced with the painful prospect of cutting 600 jobs. Levy, 59, involved the entire hospital staff in creating a plan that cut their own salaries and benefits, including his own, so that low-wage workers were spared and only 70 jobs were lost.

• Danny Cottrell -- Recession-Weary Pharmacist Inspired His Alabama Community to Pay It Forward


With many businesses struggling to survive the economic downturn, Danny Cottrell, a pharmacist in tiny Brewton, Ala., gave his 24 employees a bonus under the condition that they give 15 percent to charity and spend the rest at local businesses. Cottrell is nominated for demonstrating that neighbors can help neighbors out of tough economic times and for inspiring other businesses across the country to follow his lead and pay it forward.

• Iranians for Freedom -- They Risked Their Lives for Democracy

After Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad captured a second term in a highly disputed election, hundreds of thousands of Iranian citizens took to the streets. The protesters are nominated for their refusal to defer the dream of democracy and their willingness to sacrifice their own personal freedom -- and even their lives -- to push for democracy.