Sunday, April 3, 2011

Human Tenacity

Oh, the stories of resilience and tenacity we humans can recount. I rarely read about sports, but today I was trying to catch up on the latest news regarding the NCAA basketball championships when I came across this story near the back of the New York Times sports section about Bethany Hamilton. It turns out that Bethany is a championship surfer who won the the 18-and-under national title when she was 15 and eventually became a successful professional surfer working out of Kauai. They have even made a feature film about her.

Of course, as accomplished as she was at a young age, you don't usually get somebody to make a move about you unless you're extra special. What makes Bethany so unusual is that at the age of 13, two years before she won the national championships, she lost her left arm while surfing when a 14-foot shark savaged her, causing her to lose 60% of her blood and nearly losing her life. After spending 7 days in the hospital, Bethany fully recovered and was surfing again within a month. Teaching herself to paddle with one arm and to use a powerful kick to propel her forward and then learning to re-balance herself without the help of that second, seemingly all-important arm, she soon returned to competitive surfing and was recognized in 2004 by ESPY as the Comeback Athlete of the Year.

She has continued to excel and remains a top surfing competitor. Bethany credits her parents for encouraging her to maintain her relationship with Jesus Christ and for fueling her continuing passion for surfing, but there is also something here about how tenacious and resilient we human beings can be. I am reminded of the famous line from Eleanor Roosevelt that "you must do the things you think you cannot do." And certainly, few people have had more experience in coming back from the worst kind of adversity than Mrs. Roosevelt, whether helping her husband to recover from a polio attack which left him permanently paralyzed from the waist down, or becoming the most notable spokesperson for the rights of oppressed peoples from around the world despite being an extremely self-conscious and retiring person. She overcame all of this, in part, because it was necessary for her to overcome it. There was so much at stake.

I say all this not to suggest that Bethany Hamilton and Eleanor Roosevelt were not extraordinary people, but to affirm that most of us can accomplish far more than we sometimes imagine. Having the vision to imagine something different is part of it, and simply believing, despite apparent limitations, that we are capable beyond our wildest dreams is still another. So why not begin? Imagining and envisioning something different for ourselves and to begin right now to do those things we have always assumed we cannot do.

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