A Second Chance at Greatness – Never Give Up!

by / Thursday, December 26, 2013 / Published in Health and Fitness

If you want to achieve great things, not only is it necessary to commit yourself to the discipline and hard work required to get there but you also need to surround yourself with people whose standards are just as high.

All my athletic life, that’s been clear to me. I’ve always prepared for success and tested myself against the very best training partners and competitors, and that’s made it possible for me to overcome every personal challenge to rise to the top of elite athletic competition.

In early 2013, I made the decision to get back in shape – not just to look better or feel stronger, but to recapture the peak conditioning that made me the world’s greatest wheelchair athlete throughout the 1980s and 1990s. I enlisted my 25 year old workout partner and started on January 18th, knowing that we had a long way to go. After all, I had spent more than half of 2012 away from my regular routine of weight workouts and eating clean. So it’s probably no surprise that my body fat at the beginning of January was 20.55%. But I wasn’t worried because as they say, “You don’t just need to KNOW what to do, you need to DO what you know.”

In the 10 months since, I’ve put my knowledge to good use. Plus I’ve tuned into the great tips from Lee Labrada on Facebook to keep fine-tuning everything. That means eating, supplementing, working out and thinking like a champion. One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most is how my attitude has influenced the people around me…

Take my workout partner for example – he’s young and strong – but over the course of this journey, he has completely changed his game and I can see how he’s stepped up his expectations every time he steps into the gym. He has adapted to asking more of himself (and of me) and the results have been inspiring to both of us, physically and mentally!

You remember my 20.55% body fat percentage? Well, now I’m down…to 7.7%!

Making a Lasting Impression

It’s been incredible to transform my body this quickly. The reason I want to share my story is because I know it might just inspire some people who are struggling to keep up with their workouts and their diet when they see what a person that is getting older and is paralyzed from the chest down can do.

I just went to Kansas State University and spoke to the K-State football team. I followed up with some video shoots, as I was chosen to be the spokesperson for Kansas State University’s “The Wildcat Way” campaign, featured in TV commercials, radio spots, internet and print media. It is an honor to be invited to be a part of this movement, and to reflect on my experiences at K-State, including how I came to work alongside legendary football coach Bill Snyder.

Having a rich history in Kansas, I happen to have a lot of close contacts anywhere I visit who enjoy getting together for workouts.

When I worked out at Simoneau Sports Performance Gym in Overland Park, a suburb of Kansas City, I out-lifted the All-Americans working there and one guy that was 6’4′ said, “Kevin, you about ripped my arms off!” when I threw overhead medicine ball passes as hard as I could. He had been sitting on a bench and couldn’t believe that every time he caught one of my 10 lb. “heaters” he and the benchwere flying back about 6 inches! All the guys working out in the gym were amazed at the fact that someone in a wheelchair with ZERO core stability was able to generate that much force just using upper body strength.

At another workout, a former college football player who still weight trains regularly approached me after I wrapped up some preacher curls and lat pull downs to say that he’d have to go home and re-evaluate his workout regimen and intensity. Once again, the guy in the wheelchair was exceeding anyone’s expectations for what a ‘tough’ workout really was, and they saw the clear proof that whatever they were doing might be falling just a little bit short of what they really wanted. The take home message is that if I can do it, so can you!

“Pain builds courage! You can’t be strong, brave and a winner if only good things happen to you. You have to go through the tough times and obstacles to find out what you’re really capable of.”

So How Do I Accomplish My Goals?

Whether I am preparing for competition or training:

I write my goals on note pads, typing paper and poster board and put them all over the house; in my bathroom, bedroom and anywhere else I know I will see them.

So, whenever I see those goals I know that even if I may not feel like training hard that day I have to get in there and get it done if I want to reach them. I also make sure that I put a deadline to each one of my goals.

I also do what a good friend of mine, Anthony Robbins, would always tell his audiences. He told his audiences to ask themselves: WHAT GOALS WOULD YOU SET IF YOU KNEW YOU COULDN’T FAIL? Now, that really opens the door to some great possibilities and that’s why I set a goal to be the World’s Greatest Athlete and I thought since I was a pretty good athlete on my feet and I played college football as well as track on scholarship it wouldn’t be that hard. Soon I found out that training using only your upper body with NO CORE BALANCE is tougher than anything I had ever done on my feet. However, I like to say: “Where There’s a Wheel There’s A Way” so I started by setting my goal to win a medal as a wheelchair athlete in the 1988 Paralympics in Seoul, South Korea that are held in conjunction with the able-bodied Olympics.

After winning countless races in America and around the world and being named OUTSTANDING ATHLETE of the Track and Field meets I competed in, it wasn’t long before I was invited to the White House to meet President H.W. Bush ’41. He asked me to bring some pictures taken during my competition and also asked me to talk to schools and visit the Children’s hospitals to share my knowledge and my story. I would give away the gold medals that I had won to the boy and girl chosen in each school as having overcome the greatest adversity. It was my hope that this would encourage them to do well in school. I also gave each youngster in the Children’s Hospitals a medal and told them that they have a Champion inside and they should NEVER GIVE UP! on their goals and dreams because: “There’s Always A Way!”

When President H.W. Bush was looking at my pictures that were taken during different competitions I had competed in, he told me that I looked built up like Arnold Schwarzenegger. Then he asked me if I would like to serve on his President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports with Arnold. I told President Bush that: “It would be an honor to serve you and my country in that capacity Mr. President!” He replied: Then let’s get it done!” I only found out later that only 20 people are chosen to be on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports nationwide and this is the only Council in Washington that meets directly with the President of the United States. Also there was over 2,000 people on the waiting list to get a chance to serve on this council. Wow! I had NO IDEA when I was in the Oval Office what a huge honor was being bestowed on me.

While serving on the President’s Fitness Council on Physical Fitness & Sports I got to meet many famous athletes from across America, including the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger. One that sticks in my mind in particular was Al Oerter. Only he and Carl Lewis had ever won 4 gold medals in 4 different Olympics in the same event (Track & Field). Al Oerter had done it in the discus and Carl Lewis in the Long Jump. Each time Al Oerter won the gold medal in the Olympics he’d break the Olympic record. And one time he had been in a car wreck and threw the disc with cracked ribs and all. That performance still secured him the Gold and broke the Olympic record!

Al Oreter had a couple of sayings that helped me to reach goals in my life as well. One is: “There’s NO Shortcut to Success. Is Just Good Old Fashioned Hard Work!” The other one was: “Never let the Thought of Taking it Easy Enter Your Mind!” Both are great words to live by that will help you reach and surpass your goals.

I’ll be the first to admit that working out and getting in great shape it’s not easy. It’s hard for me to get going sometimes because I have horrendous back pain from my accident that threw me over a 2 story building (over 300 feet) through the air onto a concrete parking lot. So you might have a better understanding what I overcome before I workout it feels like somebody behind me used their hand to ram their fingers through my skin, get a hold of my spinal cord and try to rip my spinal cord out through my back. Ouch! Double Ouch!

No matter how bad it hurts one thing I know, just like when I was training on my feet, once you start your workout you start feeling better. Sometimes not right away but eventually it will get better as you get more focused on what you’re doing and start to take those deep breaths. I can guarantee you that once you finish your workout you’ll be glad you went through the pain to get it done!
I will finish off by saying that once I saw a poster that read: “A Day Without Exercise is like Smoking a Pack of Cigarettes!” To me that really put the importance of exercise in proper perspective.

Kevin during filming of Wildcat Way video

I would like to leave you with this: If you need a plan of exercise, diet and supplementation, just follow Lee’s tips. When it comes to building a Lean Body, exercising and eating right, there’s no one better than Lee Labrada, one of the greatest body builders of all time. I always say that if you want to get the best information on a subject, you have to go to someone who has excelled at what he does in order to be the best of the best. That’s why I get my information from Lee and that’s why I follow his Lean Body Coaching newsletter and tips on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Whether it is new workouts, new types of foods to eat in the proper amounts or simply motivation, Lee and his team provide it all!

Kevin Saunders is a Wildcat and paralympic medalist and world champion

I want to wish you much success on building you new Lean Body; a body that is symmetrical, full of lean muscle and low in fat; the Labrada Way!

Keep Going for the GOLD! Never Give Up!
Kevin Saunders, motivational speaker
Kevin Saunders


Kevin Saunders is a World Champion Paralympian, motivational speaker, athlete (with multiple gold medals) and author. Kevin Saunders was the first person with a disability appointed to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness Sports (only 20 people are selected for this nationwide) by the President of the United States. Kevin Saunders was first chosen to be appointed to the prestigious Council by President George H.W. Bush and was the only person reappointed by to this Council by President Bill Clinton and he was reappointed again by President George W. Bush as a constituent expert to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness & Sports. Learn more about Kevin’s story and accomplishments.


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