For Wilmette resident Bryan Sable, being awarded the Congressional Gold Medal is much more than a prize. It’s a way of life. Or, as his mother Karen Sable put it last Friday, “It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey.”
Sable’s eight-year journey has challenged him physically through team and individual athletics, and has led him to develop his own skills by learning computer programming and gaining rescue scuba diver certification.
Since 2003, he’s mentored troubled young people through the Haven program, and volunteered with such efforts as Special Olympics and the American Cancer Society’s “Relay for Life.”
The journey has even taken him to Costa Rica, where he helped research the lives of endangered sea turtles — and helped rescue a few from poachers.
Most recently, his gold medal journey led Sable to Washington, D.C. There the New Trier graduate was one of 246 young people who received the medal at a June 22 ceremony, in recognition of efforts they put into improving their own lives and that of others.
The Congressional Award program, created by the U.S. Congress in 1979 and developed since then as a public-private partnership, is open to young Americans between 14 and 23. It is nonpartisan, voluntary and non-competitive.
Participants can earn certificates and medals, each at so-called bronze, silver and gold levels. Each level involves setting goals in four areas; volunteer public service, personal development, physical fitness, plus expedition and exploration.
Participants are under no deadlines, need no minimum grade-point average to stay in the program and can work at their own pace.
Sable, now a senior at DePauw University, first heard of the program from his parents, who in turn learned of it from a friend. It intrigued him, he said last week, and he started working on his personal goals.
Two years ago, Sable received the program’s silver medal. (In what may be proof that Congressional Award program enthusiasm can be catching, that achievement has now been reached by his younger sister Kimber, a college sophomore at Vermont’s Middlebury College.)
Sable credits the program with helping to keep him focused on both the big and little pictures in his life.
“It’s nice to have a structure to what you’re doing, and a structure for eventually making the world a better place — which I think is one of the major goals of the program,” Sable said.
Karen Sable said her son’s program work has helped develop his maturity: “He’s not the typical 21-year-old. He has more in-depth insight about people. He sees the value in every person; when you see him interacting with them, he genuinely wants to get to know them and incorporate them in his life.”
It also helped him deal with a severe injury during his senior year, one that prevented him from playing varsity hockey, and broadened his life experiences while doing so, she said.
Participation, Randy Sable said, “creates a way of life in terms of who (participants) become and how they get there. Bryan’s still on his journey, and we like where he’s going.”
Sable, who is majoring in sociology and communications, hopes to travel through Europe or across the globe after he graduates and before he starts studying for a master’s in business administration. That urge to learn more about the world is another legacy of his program participation.
For young people thinking about getting involved in the Congressional Medal program themselves, Sable had one piece of advice.
“People overestimate what they can accomplish in a day, but underestimate what they can accomplish in a lifetime,” he said. “This is a way to help you realize those lifetime goals.”
For more information on the Congressional Award, visit www.congressionalaward.org/.