I remember reading an extremely impressive book, around the same time, about Elizabeth Tudor, possibly the greatest leader Western Civilization has ever had. A long time later I was fascinated by the stories that Robert LeFevre (look him up) told about American Revolutionary characters like George Washington, Paul Revere, and Israel Putnam (look him up, too).
I guess part of it was my realization, somewhere along the line, that figures out of history, people in the past, were basically regular human beings who had to get past ordinary—and sometimes extraordinary—obstacles to accomplish the things that we remember them for. Another early "mentor" was the immortal Paul de Kruif, who wrote Microbe Hunters.
Breakfast cereal manufacturer C.W. Post, for example, and John Stith Pemberton, the inventor of Coca-Cola, were both terribly ill almost all of their lives, the latter suffering chronic pain from a saber wound he endured during the War between the States and a subsequent addiction to morphine. Post thought he had stomach cancer and eventually killed himself with a shotgun. Thomas Alva Edison was famously deaf. Julius Caesar suffered from epilepsy. Theodore Roosevelt began his life as a small, sickly boy and changed himself through sheer force of character.
I was a small, sickly boy, myself, pitifully undersized and suffering from every common childhood disease—and a few uncommon ones. All that I had going for me was my intelligence, and a certain stubbornness, which I found out later is called "character". In this, I eventually learned, I was not unlike my country, which started small and weak—but bright and determined—and grew to be something nobody could have predicted. Because of Teddy Roosevelt, I taught myself, whenever I felt afraid, to take a step forward. I became an Eagle Scout, a musician, an underwater swimmer, a hunter and competitive shooter, a gunsmith and ballistician, a reserve police officer, and wrote dozens of books (so far) and thousands of essays like this one.