Five Stories of Success Despite Adversity

Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a wheelchairThe human spirit is the most powerful force on earth. There is nothing that can hold a person back if their will to succeed is strong enough. Physical handicaps can be a setback for sure, but a man or woman with strong determination will never let a physical limitation define who they are or what they can become. Here are five examples of heroic individuals who did let the fact that they were confined to a wheelchair hold them back from greatness.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was stricken with polio in 1921 at the age of 39. He was thereafter confined to a wheelchair but strove to never let that fact slow down his political career. Roosevelt’s presidency during the ’30s and ’40s was time of unparalleled turbulence in American history. He guided the nation through the great depression, and World War II. He is remembered as one of our greatest presidents, and one of our strongest, despite his disability.

Barbara Jordan was another inspirational American politician who was struck with a debilitating disease in the prime of life. Jordan was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate, and the first southern African American female elected to the House of Representatives. Jordan suffered from multiple sclerosis that eventually confined her to a wheelchair beginning in the 1970’s but that did not keep her from a post-political career in education, or from delivering keynote addresses at both the 1976 and 1994 Democratic conventions. Jordan remained an influential political figure until her death in 1996.

UK native Tanni Grey-Thompson was born with spina bifida and has been confined to a wheelchair from childhood. She is also a world-class athlete having won a total of 16 medals in the paralympics including 11 gold. Her wheelchair racing career spanned from 1988 to 2004 and set 30 world records. She won the wheelchair division of the London Marathon six times. Now known as Baroness Grey-Thompson DBE, she sits on the House of Lords as a non party political crossbench peer.

Actor, director, and activist Christopher Reeve will always be remembered for his portrayal of Superman in the movies, but his real-life career as an activist and spokesman for victims of spinal chord injuries is far more inspiring. Reeve suffered a fall from horseback while riding in 1985 that left him paralyzed from the neck down. While he never recovered, Reeve also did not retire from public life, remaining active both as a film director and in his outspoken support of stem cell research for spinal chord injury therapy.

Stephen Hawking NASA 50th (200804210002HQ)

Physicist Stephen Hawking has proved beyond a doubt that the mind is far more powerful than the body. Hawking was on his way to a distinguished career in science as a student at Cambridge University in the 1960’s when he contracted Lou Gehrig’s disease at age 21. Not long thereafter, Hawking was confined to wheelchair and confronted with the grim reality that victims of this disease are seldom given more than ten years to live. Now that Hawking has passed his 71st birthday he has definitely proved the exception to the rule. Hawking is recognized as one of the top physicists in history. He is a major figure in the study of black holes, and was the Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge from 1979 to 2009; a distinction he shares with the likes of Sir Isaac Newton.

Wring about these amazing individuals certainly has inspired me to be a better person. Whether we are a mother, child, student, doctor, politician, actor or whatever profession we are currently practicing, it is important to keep in mind the success in what we do is what’s important. Being the best person we possibly can is definitely the best achievement we can make during our lives, just like what these individuals above done so successfully.

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