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Overcoming Obstacles: The Height of the Human Spirit

Updated on January 13, 2018

A warrior is not about perfection or victory or invulnerability. He's about absolute vulnerability. - Socrates

Derek Redmond's Story

Derek Redmond competed in the summer Olympics in Barcelona in 1992. He was favored to win the 400 meter semi-final when he tore his hamstring and fell to the track just over half way through the race. Redmond held the British record for the 400 meter sprint, along with several gold medals, but this day, he was on the ground in anguish. Yet Derek Redmond made history this day. Not because he won the race, but because he lay on the track only long enough to acknowledge his determination to finish was greater than his pain. He pulled himself up and began to run, this time on one leg. ESPN reported,

"Suddenly, everyone realizes that Redmond isn't dropping out of the race by hobbling off to the side of the track. No, he is actually continuing on one leg. He's going to attempt to hobble his way to the finish line. All by himself. All in the name of pride and heart. Slowly, the crowd, in total disbelief, rises and begins to roar. The roar gets louder and louder. Through the seering pain, Redmond hears the cheers... "

In Redmond’s mind, he could be a quitter or he could finish the race. "I wasn’t doing it for the crowd," he later told reporters. "I was doing it for me.... I’m the one who has to live with it." Two years after the hamstring that temporarily disabled him in the Olympics, Redmond was told he would never run again. Yet he went on to play on Britain’s national basketball team, win Celebrity Gladiators, and become a Director of Development for UK Athletics. He may have crossed the Olympic finish line last, but he crossed the line of human spirit in first place.

Your belief determines your action and your action determines your results, but first you have to believe. - Mark Victor Hansen

Dave Bryant's Story

Dave Bryant dove into Lake Guntersville in 1995 after climbing a 30 foot cliff, the same cliff he had dove from many times before. This dive would be his last. A simple day of fun turned into years of agonizing rehabilitation instead. He recounted the story like it was yesterday:

"I poised myself, arms at my side, feet together, and then dipping slightly I launched myself up and out, arms up and out in the most beautiful swan dive I’d ever done. I felt frozen in time for a moment. I looked down and could see my reflection in the lake. I could hear the wind in my ears as I closed my arms over my head hands to punch a hole into the water. The initial impact was what I expected, but then something went terribly wrong. My arms were driven back as though I had hit a brick wall and my head smashed into the sandbar. I remember a sound like eggshells cracking. It was my neck."

Adrenalin coursed through his veins long enough that he actually walked to the car, but then determination had to take over. It took three days to get a surgical team together while Dave remained sedated, waiting to learn his fate. The first surgery was necessary to re-attach his head to his vertebrae and it took 8 hours. For five days afterward, Dave could not move voluntarily. He faced complete paralysis for life. The convulsions were so bad that he snapped a 3" wide nylon strap and had to be tied down with leather straps instead. Three months later, Dave faced his second surgery. And then a third surgery which took 9 ½ hours, longer than the initial surgery. The next 4 months, Dave spent pinned in a halo brace.

Dave recounts the events harrowing his paralyzed body but working mind at the time. "Time lost all meaning," he said. Told by doctors that nothing more could be done and that he would probably never walk again, like Derek, Dave was sent home with little hope. But he refused to accept a physician prescribed fate. At first, he hobbled around, first with crutches, then with canes, until he finally stood on his own. Today, he can walk with a normal gait, run, and even dive should he choose to do so.

Kyle Maynard's Story

Kyle was born in an average American home. He has two sisters. He has a pet. He drives a car. The only thing different about Kyle is that he has no arms or legs. He was born with a condition called congenital amputation, but he never saw it as something that would prevent him from achieving his goals. When he wanted to wrestle at the age of 11, his school coach gave him the chance. He later attained the title "GNC's World's Strongest Teen" because he bench pressed 240 lbs. 23 consecutive times. He has far from retired. In 2009, he lifted 420 lbs. He recently "climbed" Mt. Kilimanjaro. As an instructor at his self-founded fitness center, Crossfit, he works with wounded soldiers to help restore their functionality after injuries in service.

Nearing the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro, Kyle was interviewed about the trials and labors of attempting such a feat. It was no easy task. It was wrought with challenges that would have made it easy to give up. It was physically, emotionally and mentally challenging. What kept Kyle moving? Determination. At one of the most difficult parts of the climb he said "Sometimes I get so focused on how far I have to go, that I forget to look back at how far I've come."

The Power of the Human Spirit

Young, old and everywhere in between, humans are faced with adversity and personal challenge. What sees us through? What were the motivators that saw Derek Redmond, Dave Bryant and Kyle Maynard through the trials of their lives? What made them forge ahead with determination rather than give up hope or give in to complacency or apathy?

Dave said the most important thing he learned was that words can cripple an individual as much as any injury can. He could have believed what his doctors said and in fact, he almost did. What saved him was his own belief in himself and the determination to back it up. When the chips were really weighing down, the sail of perseverance guided him through the worst storm of his life. Kyle said when he really felt discouraged, he looked back at how far he'd come. Derek said he pushed through because in the end, the person he had to live with was himself.

All three of these men had different motivators. All three pushed through the most trying trial of their lives. The stories of Derek, Dave and Kyle show us the depth of inner human strength. While the motivators may be different, the strength to pull from is hidden in each of us. In our darkest hours, we must search for that stream of light that guides us personally.

It is often said that 'sometimes the only way out is through.' If you can imagine yourself on the other end of the trial (i.e., triumph), sometimes you simply must push forward, one babystep at a time, one day at a time. If you can't see the light at the end of your tunnel, reach out to those who have run life's race in your shoes. They can be a great source of healing, hope, and restoration. We all have the capacity to cross the finish lines of our own predicaments. We are not judged on whether we hobble, crawl, or run the perfect race across the finish line. We are judged on how hard we tried to begin with.


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      8 years ago

      Interesting stories which should remind us not to take precious things for granted.


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