As a youth, I worshipped Sandy Koufax. A hall of fame pitcher for the Dodgers, Sandy had a ballet leg kick and a fastball as elusive as sipping soup with a fork.

All of us neighborhood kids began imitating Sandy’s leg kick and pitching motion. We even imitated his voice inflections. If you wore a baseball jersey in Los Angeles, it had to be number 32.

So it is with our heroes. For good or ill, example is a potent elixir.

As a man thinketh

A Bible verse teaches, "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7).

To illustrate, consider the latest pop-craze: Some devotees live for the craze until the thrill becomes habit, the habit becomes lifestyle, and the lifestyle shapes character.

Likewise, consider those inspired by examples of excellence. Though I lacked the talent to become the next Sandy Koufax, I admired and tried to imitate his tremendous work ethic.

To admire is to aspire.

In the October 2009 general conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said: "For what we love determines what we seek. What we seek, determines what we think and do. What we think and do determines who we are — and who we will become." (see "The Love of God," Ensign, November 2009.)

It is not surprising that the company we keep and the people we admire help to shape our thoughts, feelings, desires and actions.

Heroes and friends

Noted British politician and author Benjamin Disraeli said, "The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and the inheritance of a great example."

While we all know children who stray from the good examples of their parents, I suspect there are more successes than prodigals. That is why the righteous influence of a parent is so vital, especially during the formative years.

How many youths would list their parents as their heroes? I would. My mom taught me the value of nurturing and the pride in an honest day’s labor. My dad taught me to rise above adversity and make the best of what life gives.

In the pamphlet "For the Strength of Youth," modern prophets counsel: "To have good friends, be a good friend. As you seek to be a friend to others, do not compromise your standards. Seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost."

Another one of my heroes is President Thomas S. Monson. His life is a legacy of lifting and serving others, especially when it isn’t convenient. Perhaps true heroes are defined by their willingness to do hard things to accomplish noble things.

"Let us ask ourselves the questions," said President Monson, "have I done any good in the world today? Have I helped anyone in need? What a formula for happiness! There are gifts to be given. There are deeds to be done. There are souls to be saved." (see "Now is the Time," Ensign, November 2001.)

Choose friends and heroes wisely. For what we love we emulate, and what we emulate we become.

William Monahan graduated from BYU law school. An Air Force veteran and former Phoenix stake president, he teaches law and serves as a high councilor for Queen Creek Arizona Chandler Heights Stake. He begins service July 2012 as a mission president.