These amazing men and women showed that ordinary people can achieve the impossible-by taking the time to care

By Alicia Dennis Cathy Free
November 07, 2011 12:00 PM

Abbass Al Sharif, 28

James Odei, 35

Thomas Timken, 62

Mike Johnson, 62

Derrick Harper, 24

Kathryn Grigg, 19

Anvar Suyundikov, 29

Kelsey Alder, 18

Brandon Wright, 21

Forever Grateful

Smoke stung Brandon Wright’s eyes as he tried to raise his head off the asphalt on U.S. Highway 89 in Logan, Utah, just after his motorcycle had burst into flames around noon on Sept. 12. Screaming, he saw the undercarriage of a black BMW above him and realized he was pinned underneath. “My God,” he recalls thinking, “I’m not going to make it.”

His predicament set in motion a heroic chain of events-captured on video and seen by millions on the Internet-that brought a diverse group of samaritans together to save a stranger’s life. From fruit vendor Tom Timken to a trio of foreign graduate students at Utah State University to construction workers Mike Johnson and Derrick Harper, about a dozen rescuers rushed to the scene and took on a seemingly superhuman task. Minutes later they lifted the 4,000-lb. car, pulling an unconscious Wright from the wreck.

Five weeks later PEOPLE reunited Wright, 21, a graphic-design student, and seven rescuers for the first time at a photo shoot in Logan. In a wheelchair, with his right arm in a cast and his feet bandaged, he faces months of surgery and rehab but is expected to make a full recovery. “Thanks for all you guys did for me,” Wright said. “What you did was awesome.” Replied James Odei, 35, a statistics student from Ghana: “It was an honor to help you. Seeing you here is all the thanks we need.”

The Rescuers


Anvar Suyundikov, 29; James Odei, 35; Abbass Al Sharif, 28

SUYUNDIKOV: We all worked as a team: construction workers, medical people, students.

ODEI: The moment I realized a human was under this car, I had to help. What if it was my brother?

AL SHARIF: Working separately, nobody would have been able to lift that car, but together we did it. This is small compared to huge things happening in the world. But if we unite, we can work magic.


Tom Timken, 62

I went into panic mode and tried to lift the car by myself. Obviously, it was too heavy, so I yelled for help. Five of us couldn’t budge it, so I started yelling again. About 12 of us tilted it enough. I don’t consider myself a hero. We just came out to help, then went our separate ways. I’m real glad we were all there that day, though. You never know when you’ll be called on to make a difference.


Kathryn Grigg, 19; Kelsey Alder, 18

GRIGG: I learned that you can find the good in the world everywhere-that even I can be part of a miracle.

ALDER: Kathryn and I noticed a car on fire outside our window, so we ran out. I got down on the ground and looked underneath, and I could see his chest moving, so I hollered, “He’s alive!” I cried in happiness because I knew Brandon was going to make it. That one little moment has changed my life.


Judge Jimmie Edwards, 56

St. Louis, Mo.

In 2009 Family Court Judge Jimmie Edwards launched the Innovative Concept Academy, an alternative, last-resort school for young offenders in the same neighborhood as the gang-ridden public housing complex where he grew up. His unique approach seems to be working: Only four of 700 students have returned to jail. Says Edwards: “It doesn’t make sense to lock a 12-year-old up for six years and put him back in our community when he’s 18. Every child, and especially those who have made mistakes, deserves a chance to see the good in this world and to dream of what possibilities life has to offer. I truly believe I can rehabilitate children. Most are good and decent. I know they can do better; they can achieve. They want somebody to teach them what’s right.”


C.J. Huff, 41

Joplin, Mo.

After a massive tornado killed 160 people and ripped Joplin apart on May 22, school district superintendent C.J. Huff kept a round-the-clock vigil at the North Middle School shelter, directing school buses to serve as ambulances and comforting those who lost everything. Weeping, he lay on a cot in the dark and made a vow. “I love these kids,” he remembers thinking. “We’ve got to reopen these schools.” And in only 87 days, he did. Thanks to thousands of volunteers and creative thinking, 4,200 students moved into 260 classrooms, with a warehouse becoming a middle school and a vacant department store turning into a high school. Says Huff: “Never underestimate the ability of people to accomplish anything.”


Gabriel Whaley, 21

Midland, N.C.

When Gabriel Whaley was 10, his parents struggled to pay for soccer camp, so he borrowed his dad’s socks, found discounted gear-and showed such hustle he won the camp’s spirit award. That same drive inspired the University of North Carolina senior to help struggling families on and off the field by offering free soccer instruction to kids ages 5 to 15 in exchange for donations of nonperishable canned goods. Since 2006 his Kicking4Hunger program has scored big time.


• 16,825 lbs. donated food

• 1,200 kids coached

• 40 Gabe’s weekly camp work hours

• 2 Mohawks given to camp directors (when a camp raises more than 2,000 lbs. of food)


Dennis Tyler, 64

Melbourne, Fla.

Dennis Tyler looks deep into the eyes of each greyhound needing a new life after retiring from Florida’s busy racetracks and gets inspired all over again. “It’s looking at all those faces,” he says, “that drives me to keep doing this.”

Since 1991, Tyler, a retired mechanic from Kennedy Space Center, has found adoptive homes for some 7,200 greyhounds who are no longer able to compete on the track. He pays veterinary bills, matches dogs with loving families and drives them to their new homes, mostly on the East Coast. New owner Sharon Bell of Rochester, N.Y., says 5-year-old Koa works magic with her 25-year-old daughter Danielle, who has special needs. “Dennis,” she says, “is incredible.”


Lisa Nigro, 50

Chicago, Ill.

Growing up poor in suburban Chicago, with a mother who battled addiction and a father who was rarely around, Lisa Nigro was amazed that those showing her the greatest kindness often had the least. “The hand extended to me most times,” Nigro recalls, “was the hand that didn’t have anything.” She became a police officer and, wanting to work directly with the needy, began handing out sandwiches from her nephew’s red wagon. She left the force and, 22 years later, serves 36,000 free meals a year through her Inspiration Cafe; the nonprofit also has provided counseling, restaurant job training and subsidized housing to 15,000 people. “With Lisa in your corner,” says Tasha Madix, 35, formerly homeless and now a full-time mom with her own home, “you can accomplish anything.”