Against the Odds: Why My Heart Melts for Underdog Heroes


Elli Milan standing next to liberty bellIn elementary school, for the only time in my entire life, I had two boys fighting over me. Although I knew I shouldn't, I loved every second of it. I loved watching them show off and try to outdo each other with tricks and maneuvers on the jungle gym, all meant to impress me. I loved the love notes and gifts at recess, and all the compliments made me feel special.

Shane Hanes: The Confident Rebel

The two boys were extremely different from each other. Shane Hanes, with his longish blond hair and bangs in his eyes, was confident, smooth, and cocky. He was a bad boy, always getting into trouble with the teachers and frequently sent to the principal's office. It was clear he was the kind of guy who would end up on a dangerous path, involved with drugs, in jail, and certainly a cheater. He had no boundaries, bullied other kids, led a crew of other bad boys, and was girl crazy. He thrilled me and scared me all at once, but I felt drawn to him even though I knew he was bad news and wouldn’t pass my dad’s checklist.

Sean Beltrami: The Shy Kind-hearted Student

On the other hand, there was Sean Beltrami, a dark, shorter boy with an ethnic appearance. He was shy, quiet, and a good student. He became awkward when he talked to me, often looking down at his feet while flashing a shy smile. He had dark curly hair, and dark skin, and loved to play baseball. He didn't have a lot of friends, but everyone liked him. He was kind and helpful to the teachers, and he was the first one to express his interest in me, talking to me at recess. I think Shane only started to like me because he saw that Sean was taking an interest and enjoyed the competition.

The Pressure to Choose

Being the center of these boys' attention for a couple of weeks boosted my popularity with the other girls. Although I knew I wasn’t allowed to have a boyfriend that young, I felt the pressure to choose between them. Both boys kept asking me who I had decided on.

Every day, all the girls in my class would ask which one I wanted to go steady with. I put off the decision for as long as I could because I loved the attention and was nervous about what would come next if I chose one of them. I didn't really want a boyfriend, but I couldn't bring myself to tell them that neither of them was my choice.

The pressure intensified during recess one day. I was playing kickball with some kids from class, including both Sean and Shane, who were on the opposing team. Sean was playing in the outfield between first and second base, and Shane was the kickball pitcher. It was my turn at the plate to kick the ball. I wanted to make a powerful kick and score some points for our team.

As Shane rolled the ball on the ground really fast toward me, he looked at me and smirked. My heart began to beat rapidly. I was worried I would mess up, and the ball would roll off my foot and go out of bounds behind me. I was worried that both boys would realize I was just a dork and they would stop fighting over me.

A Surprising Twist of Events

Elli Milan as a little girl, dressed in her equestrain gear, standing and smiling in front of a fountain.

With determination, I swung my leg back and blasted a huge kick. But my foot landed too far beneath the ball, causing it to soar high into the air. Everyone started yelling for Sean to catch it. Shane watched as his masterful fast-rolling ball flew high into the air, destined for a sure catch and “ball out” for his team. The second and third bases were loaded, but none of the kids moved.

I ran half-heartedly to first base, fully expecting Sean to catch the ball and get me out. As I ran, I could see Sean holding his hands out, perfectly positioning himself for the catch. I started feeling embarrassed and preemptively braced myself for the onslaught of comments, shame, and humiliation that would follow.

I was about three steps away from first base when I saw the inevitable catch happen. But to my surprise, Sean allowed the big red ball to slip through his arms, letting it bounce on the ground while looking right at me with his dark eyes. After the bounce, he slowly retrieved the ball and threw it to first base after I touched the base with my foot, declaring me safe!

I knew he had done it on purpose, and so did all the other kids. I knew it would be him to face the mob instead of me. Leading the charge was Shane Hanes running toward Sean violently pushing him to the ground. They rolled around in the dirt, fists flying. All the kids were yelling and calling Sean names like "Doofus" and "Wooped."

Finally, Sean managed to get to his feet, touching his bleeding lip with his finger, and looking at the evidence. He quickly started running away to the other end of the playground.

I stood astonished by Shane’s actions. I was so angry. I felt so cherished and cared for by Sean. He had my heart. Shane was a dirtbag and nasty. I wanted nothing to do with him. That day, I made my choice. Sean wasn't popular or cool, and he was definitely the underdog in the Sean vs. Shane challenge, but he was kind and wanted to protect me from embarrassment.

My Heart Melts for The Underdog

Oil painting by Elli Milan of eagle, lion, bull and man

It's the stories of Cinderellas and the Frodos that grip my soul. The outcasts, lowly and disadvantaged who face their oppressors and win with their big hearts, courage, and grit. I love witnessing the unlucky persevere until they get what they want. I am captivated by the fool who is willing to take risks in the name of faith and purpose and see him triumphantly succeed in the end.

That's why I love artists so much. They are the Cinderellas of the world who have been mistreated, cheated, and overlooked. They have been denied their place at the royal ball and the opportunity to marry the prince.

As an artist, do you relate to the struggles and challenges faced by underdogs in the artistic world? How have you persevered and pursued your passion despite setbacks?

Share your thoughts in the comments below!


  • Tanja

    I dont think you will realize what your written words and what you stand for means to me as a person and artist. I experienced exactly the same at University (refering to your recent podcast about the gatekeepers), it scarred me s an artist and am still trying to get there. I am becoming more and more determined however and am realizing there is nothing wrong with me or my art bit the system that controls the art market. Thank you for your obedience and purpose driven approach. It inspires me so! FBpage Tanja van Biljon – Artist;
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Hi Tanja Thank you for your kind encouragement. I’m so happy you feel inspired by what I write. There’s a whole art world based on Beauty and hope over riding the dark art establishment right now. Know that we win! 😊

  • Kimberley Balser

    I totally understand the “underdog” perception. Throughout the 6 decades of my life so far, four of them had many tragedies that I was left to deal with by myself. Just as Covid was starting I lost two of my family members that meant a lot to me. It was my Aunt and Uncle’s relationship and family life that I longed for but never had. Losing them felt like I lost my only connection to normalcy. I was wishing to go back in time so that I could tell them what all had happened to me over the years and how much they affected my life in the best way possible. It was a huge revelation that I knew at that point I really had to follow my heart and become the artist that I always wanted to be since I was a child. My mother and father would not allow me to chase my dream as they felt that they new what was best for me. (I had done the test for art instruction school and they graded me at 86%. I drew the bambi like character.) My art was the only thing in my life at the time that made me happy partially because I was an only child and all the men/boys in my life were abusing me in one way or another. It has taken many prayers and lots of self-reflecting to heal from my past. I had contacted a school in Toronto that has a course in make-up thinking how much I love doing make-up. I had gone back to school when I was forty and a single mother with 2 children and got an aesthetician diploma but I had hoped that there would be more about make-up in the course. With Covid and other problems relocating it just wasn’t in the cards. When I saw you on Facebook I knew immediately that I was given my divine intervention and that Milan Art Institute was my answer to all the prayers. I intend to start the course in August. I am so happy and getting extremely excited about my next chapter which will be the best yet, I am sure. Thank you for this wonderful gift you are giving me.

  • Rachel Greer

    I so enjoyed reading this.
    It has so many levels to it to ponder on.
    Artists are often very kind and sensitive people and serve others endlessly.Serving is good, but so is balance… I think learning healthy boundaries and some good self care is something us artists are realising is important, so we can learn to put ourselves first for a change, to embrace our calling and the time to put on the ball gown!
    I love the reference to Cinderella.
    No act of kindness goes unseen.
    Such a beautiful read ❤️ Thank you

  • Angie Toungate

    Oh yes, the underdog mentality in art at the gallery I am at in Pensacola, Fl. Quayside Art Gallery, of the Artist have made comments that, " you can’t ask for that much, you haven’t earned your place here, and you don’t yet have a following to price your paintings." Which was what they said do, multiply the size together and price accordingly. I lowered it down 16×20, to 150.00 and it sold 4 days later. Not earning the 300.00+.
    Then I was so discouraged when one seasoned artist at the gallery took me through the gallery and critiqued every one of my paintings, to the point of criticizing one, that she didn’t understand the concept. That, “no one would.” It was a guitar aquatic painting,. Yet it sold a week later to a man in California. But I still felt discouraged. One reason I am taking your Mastery Program. Week 2. Thanks for that. And sharing your stories.

  • Rosie

    Beautifully written and a perfect ending.

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