Real heroes aren't the pumped-up action stars of Hollywood who get $100,000 an hour for pretending to leap from an exploding car.
Nor are they sports figures who earn a similar wage for merely moving a ball from one place to another, and slapping their endorsements on products they probably never use.
No. The real heroes of the world are simple, everyday, normal human beings who find themselves faced with seemingly unsurmountable obstacles, and who somehow triumph over them through faith in God, self, family, friends.
The 12 heroes you'll meet below all live in or around Payson.
They've not yet overcome the challenges life has laid before them. But they are absolutely determined to do so.
And perhaps they will, with help from their community during this season of love, giving and compassion.
Duke, Cindy, Britney and Nathan Arrington
Duke Arrington is a hero by any thoughtful definition of the word.
The Beaver Valley man dedicated nearly half his 45 years to saving the lives of others. And now, as a result, his own life is threatened.
Arrington was a Mesa firefighter for 22 years. He also was a paramedic, and a member of the Mesa Fire Department's underwater dive rescue and hazmat teams.
If you corner him, he'll reluctantly tell you about some of his horrific, tragic, close-call and happy-ending experiences -- like the time his rubber mask was melted to his face by a backdraft. Or when he grabbed a fellow firefighter just as a burned-out floor collapsed, and wrapped a leg around a rafter to keep both of them from falling into the blaze.
Unfortunately, another of Arrington's rescue attempts did not end on such an upbeat note. And the drama is still unfolding.
In 1987, Arrington was summoned to the scene of a motorcycle accident. The bike's 20-year-old driver was clearly dying, but Arrington hooked him up to an IV as a last-ditch effort to save him. It did not. As Arrington pulled the IV needle out of the dead man's arm, its point stabbed his own hand. He thought nothing of it.
Flash forward 13 years, to a few months ago. Arrington had been feeling fatigued for some time. A physical examination revealed Arrington had chronic hepatitis C, an incurable form of the liver disease so lethal that one of the few known treatments is chemotherapy. And apparently, it had been eating away at Arrington's health and immune system since the moment that IV needle punctured his hand.
The symptoms began hitting Arrington like boulders in a landslide: nausea, headaches, bone aches, cramps, irritability, depression, insomnia, shortness of breath, and an increasing inability to focus concentration.
Arrington had no choice but to take a leave of absence from the job he loved to begin a brand-new combination anti-virus/ nuclear-chemical therapy called Rebetron.
Hepatitis C is transferable via blood contact, which is how Arrington got it from that IV needle. Soon after receiving his own bad news, Arrington's 45-year-old wife, Cindy, with whom he'd been sharing disposable razors during their 18 years of marriage, was diagnosed with hepatitis C in September.
The news came one month after the death of her father, and one month before the death of her mother.
Cindy has not yet experienced the symptoms, but she knows she will, and knows all too well what to expect. She'll start her own therapy the first week of January.
The Arringtons have health coverage which will cover 80 percent of the therapy's cost. But at $1,440 per month per person, that will leave the incomeless family with a $576 bill every four weeks. On top of that will be charges for blood work and other tests.
But, both Duke and Cindy have found silver linings in these dark clouds.
"When I was working, I was always down in the Valley, away from home," Duke said. "But now I get to sit back and watch my children grow. That's a wonderful thing."
The couple have a 9-year-old daughter, Britney and a 10-year-old son, Nathan.
"If anything has helped us get through this," Cindy said, "it's that the kids don't have it, and that we know how to keep them from getting it. We can deal with our illnesses. But I don't know how we'd have handled the kids having it, too," she said.
"It really scares me to see my dad so sick, and to know my mom might get sick, too," Nathan said. "I try to help them. I chop wood and clean up the house."
His sister, who has been quiet, finally speaks up.
"I pray for my mom and dad every night," Britney said. "I pray that my mom won't get sick, and that my dad will get better."
The Arringtons are not without genuine good news. At the moment, it appears Duke is responding well to the new therapy, which gives hope to Cindy. While both will always be carriers of hepatitis C, and may someday require liver transplants, the disease may not always remain active.
And hepatitis C has given them a new mission.
"Hundreds of thousands of people have it and don't know it," Cindy said. "Within the next five years, it is expected to infect four times as many people as AIDS. It's a true epidemic."
"People need to get tested right now," Duke said. "You've got to find it and treat it early. Back in 1987, they didn't even know about hepatitis C. It was identified only recently. And before this new drug therapy, there wasn't a lot of hope.
"But there's hope now. So please tell your readers to get tested as soon as possible."
In the meantime, the Arringtons are asked, what could the community do to help them?
"Well, there are so many people out there who are much worse off than we are," Duke said. "But I've been helping people my whole life. If I denied help from others, I'd be denying what I've always tried to do myself."
Anyone who would like to help the Arringtons, can call Pastor Steven Cook at the Payson Christian Church, 474-3138.
Need is a terrible thing. But it's hardest on those who are physically incapable of helping themselves, and too prideful to ask for assistance. Especially in a forum so public as a newspaper.
One such Christmas hero was reluctant to discuss the challenges she's facing, uneasy about even mentioning the general area where she resides, and adamant that her real name not be used.
We'll call her Stella. She and her husband, who we'll call Stanley, are both in their 70s. Married for almost a decade, they have, in the most recent of those years, struggled along on a rigidly fixed income.
Stella has had more back surgeries than she can remember. During the most recent procedure, a permanent titanium plate was bolted to her neck, allowing her to hold her head up without terrible pain.
She has no spleen to help fight off infections. Her spinal cord is leaking, causing her to shrink, she said. She can walk, but only with the regular administration of steroid epidurals.
"I don't even know how I'm alive," she said during a phone interview. "Just by the grace of God and good people, I guess. Maybe that's why I always have a smile on my face."
Stella has HMO coverage, but her annual prescription drug limit of $2,500 was exceeded some time ago. Now she and Stanley, who has serious health problems of his own, must scrape together every penny they can to pay for the $549 in medications Stella requires each month. More often than not, they fall short.
Yet when asked how she could best be helped, Stella said she didn't really need help, and very pleasantly said goodbye.
But she phoned back a few minutes later, after she'd thought things over.
"What I'd love most is toys for my two grandsons, who are 2 and 3 years old," Stella said. "They could use clothes, too. And food. That's most important."
Anyone who would like to help Stella can call Joe Calderone at the St. Vincents de Paul Society, (520) 474-9104.
Ernest and Teresa Jones, Chris and Dorma Williams and Michael Hill
His family's descent began in 1993, when Ernest Jones, 54, lost his job, and ultimately his home, in Washington state.
Not long after that, his wife, Teresa, 52, was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia Syndrome, which begins as a sort of "arthritis of the muscles," Ernest said, and ends with the disease "drilling holes into your brain."
There is no cure. The only advice proffered by Teresa's doctor was, "Get her out of this damp, cold climate."
As Ernest was trying to figure out how to accomplish such a move, Teresa's son from a previous marriage, Chris Williams, 33, married the Jones' friend Dorma, 36.
Dorma also brought into the clan her own son from a previous marriage: Michael Hill, now 15.
All five members of this family were looking to start new lives somewhere else. Because of Teresa's condition, they chose Arizona, then narrowed it down to Payson, which Chris had been told was booming -- the place to go.
So they came. With their four dogs and four cats. In the 26-foot motor home Ernest and Teresa purchased with Dorma's good credit record and down payment.
Once in Payson, Chris and Dorma quickly found jobs with the same local construction company -- he in framing, she in the office. But after about three weeks on the job, Chris fell off a ladder and broke several small bones in his back.
Dorma immediately took her husband to the Payson Regional Medical Center emergency room, then to a follow-up appointment.
When she returned to work, she said she was given an ultimatum.
"I was told to either make the company my top priority, or quit," she said. " Well, I can't put anything before my family. So I quit."
Because of Chris's needs, Dorma won't be able to look for another job until he's back on his feet, which may take three months or longer.
Meanwhile, Teresa, whose short-term memory has nearly evaporated, developed pneumonia, and now requires Ernest's full-time care. This left young Michael as the only family member who could work, so he got a job at the Swiss Village bakery.
Currently, Ernest's retirement pay is barely covering the payments on the motor home, and all other expenses are being covered by Michael's paycheck.
But their story would be darker if not for the intervention of Pastor Steve Cook of Payson Christian Church, whom Ernest said "has helped us more than I can say."
"This is a family that's seeking to do what God wants them to do," Cook said, "and in doing that has faced troubled times. They're working at overcoming those troubles, but it will take time."
Asked what they need most, Chris said he'd really appreciate footrest attachments for the wheelchair lent to him by the local VFW, for whom he has abundant praise. "They didn't even know my name. We just asked if they could help, and they did. Immediately."
Dorma hopes to hear from someone who may have a vacant house in need of repair. They could fix it up in exchange for rent, she said. In their motor home, only one person can stand up at a time.
And Ernest asks for prayers for Teresa, who was admitted to the hospital last week.
Anyone who would like to help, can call Pastor Steven Cook at the Payson Christian Church, 474-3138.
Duke and Annie Spencer
"We've dropped through the cracks," Annie Spencer said of herself and her husband, Duke.
Clean through, it appears.
Both suffer from a myriad of health problems. Annie, 46, possesses a shopping list of maladies including multiple sclerosis, diabetes, asthma, blood clots in her legs and lungs and a defective heart. She requires 11 different prescription drugs to keep her pain-free and functional. She hasn't been able to purchase any of them for two months.
Duke, 72, had a 5-way heart bypass in 1982. Since then he's developed diabetes and heart problems, for which he also requires numerous medications he's done without for almost a month.
The state, federal and county agencies which could help them do not, the couple said, for a variety of reasons, including the following:
Some say that, since Annie was employed five years ago at Wal-Mart, there's no reason she can't work now. Or that she's too young to receive aid.
Others say that Duke's meager Social Security retirement checks, the couple's only income, are too hefty to qualify them for financial aid of any kind.
But things are looking up. A recent eviction from their rented home -- where the furnace didn't work and the landlord refused to fix it -- turned out to be a blessing. Now they're living in a small trailer where, Duke says, "The furnace does work. Sort of. We just take luck where we can find it."
To help the Spencers, call Pastor Alan Field of Mount Cross Lutheran Church at 474-2552.
Other ways to help
Food donations of all types and amounts are always gladly accepted and distributed to those who need it at the Payson Food Bank and St. Vincents de Paul Society. Call 474-9104.
Payson Helping Payson and the local Salvation Army assist people in many ways. To contribute or inquire about aid if you have not already been assisted, call Payson Helping Payson at 474-1759, or contact the Salvation Army through Monte Perkins at the Payson Sheriff's Department, 474-2208.