Meet Kevin Saunders
If you’ve ever felt down and out, discouraged, beaten or broken, Kevin Saunders has been there. And if you’re wondering how someone rises from those depths to become a champion, he’s been there, too.
Kevin Saunders was just like any other young man from the Kansas countryside. Fresh out of college and starting a family, he worked long hours as a Federal grain elevator inspector. Touring facilities day after day in the heat, he knew the job wouldn’t be easy – but he didn’t know it would nearly take his life.
But then, on a busy afternoon like any other, Kevin heard the sound he would never forget…it sounded like an earthquake the government building Kevin was in was rattling and shaking with the floor and building things were falling off the wall in the government building that Kevin and his supervisor Albert Trip were in. Kevin glanced out the window and saw chunks of concrete he size of a vehicle some weighting more than a ton being blown hundreds of feet through the air and it was coming right at him towards the government building he was in.
The experts said that there were 12 explosions that ripped through the grain elevator at 1,500 feet per second. So as Kevin saw those 2 foot thick concrete walls of the grain elevator being blown apart like paper coming right at him and his supervisor in a split second the earthquake like rattling grew with so much intensity that the cracking and popping were so loud it was like it was going to split his head wide open.
At the same instant Kevin caught a glimpse of his supervisor Albert Trip out of the corner of his eye and all the blood had drained out of his face and he had turned pale white and he had this look of absolute Terror! on his face. Kevin’s supervisor didn’t utter a word he eyes were glazed over but his eyes said it all: “We’re not going to make it!” and before Kevin could even take another breathe the biggest and final explosion blew out where Kevin and his supervisor were. That last and most powerful explosion completely destroyed the government building he and his supervisor Albert Trip were in there was nothing left of that government building but the concrete foundation.
Kevin saw his supervisor Albert Trip hit the floor just before the wall of that government building blew out in Kevin’s face and Albert was one of those lives that were needlessly that day in the worst explosions in Texas history. Kevin was knocked out when the wall blew out in his face and he was blown through the roof of the building he was in and over a two story building over 300 feet through the air onto a concrete parking lot. Kevin hit the concrete parking lot hard first with the back of his head hit that concrete parking lot then his shoulder blades hit and were shattered in pieces.
This picture was taken from across the ship channel over ¾ of a mile away by a person who heard what was happening and grabbed the box camera of the dash of his truck. You can see how the this explosion came out at a 45% angle and the silos of the largest most modern grain elevator at the time had silos that were 14 stories high and the flame that looks like a blow torch is coming out of the building looks like it is probably well over 14 stories and you can see the ring of smoke at above the fire blast that looks like it is about twice as tall of the white silo to the left. We don’t know exactly how high that explosion went as the guy who took the picture just had one click on and old box type camera so it was probably even higher at its peak. If it wasn’t the last blast that blew the wall out in Kevin’s face, killed his supervisor Albert Trip and completely destroyed the government building Kevin was in it looks like it was pretty close.
The force of the blast blew his legs over his torso and broke his ribs, collapsed his lungs and severed his spinal cord at chest level. His body was broken over at the chest like people bend at the waist. When the paramedics found Kevin lying in a pool of blood with blood and cerebral spinal fluid oozing out of his nose ears and mouth and his body broken over at the chest like people bend at the waist and after the paramedics took his vital signs the black flagged him because they didn’t think he would survive the ambulance ride back to ICU of Memorial Medical Center.
I was unconscious and I would have died in that parking lot, as no ambulances or stretchers were available while rescue personnel scrambled to get the injured to hospitals. However, a paramedic who didn’t want to leave me recruited a fire and rescue guy, and together they found a door lying in the debris, which they used as a makeshift stretcher and carried me to safety. I owe them my life.
After a month in a coma, I finally woke up in the hospital. I was in excruciating pain, face down in a hospital bed with massive internal and external injuries. My doctors told me there had been an explosion, and while I was injured, ten of my co-workers were dead. The explosion and landing broke my ribs, collapsed my lungs and severed my spine at chest level. Doctors thought these injuries would kill me, but I survived. However, I’d be paralyzed for life. My faith in God helped me to hang on when others may have given up. I know that God was there because the one paramedic that stayed even after they had run out of ambulances and stretchers in a city of over ½ million people not including suburbs that donated ambulances and stretchers to help collect the victims of the disaster who was described as the parking lot around the grain elevator looked like a battlefield as bodies were scattered all over.
The newspaper headlines the next day read that Blood, bodies were scattered all over that the parking lot around the grain elevator looked like a battlefield.
I’m passionate about Safety because I nearly lost my life in a preventable workplace explosion at the Corpus Christi Public Grain Elevator. It was triggered by a safety hazard where equipment designed to pull grain dust from the silos was not working at all. Researchers have found that grain dust is more explosive than gasoline and dynamite – approaching atomic energy in a blast. When I found that this critical equipment was not functioning, I reported to my supervisor on the job. We documented the equipment failure and met with head engineer of the port. He then presented these findings to port officials, but came back and told us that they didn’t have the 2 to 3 million dollars to fix this critical safety system. It end up costing well over 50 million dollars and the grain elevator was shut down for just over a year. Just think if they had spent the 2 to 3 million dollars to fix the grain dust collection system and less than a month to repair the dust collection systems into perfect working order and would have also saved a lot of lives.
Pete Garcia was in his late fifties and had been doing this job for over 40 years. With that level of job familiarity, he had incorporated shortcuts as he had never experienced an accident after so many years on the job. That day, he wore his rubber knee pads to kneel down by the 100 lb. iron manhole cover at the top of the silo. He slid the cover off the opening a few inches – just enough to slip in the pesticide can and open it to pour out the contents. However, with the grain constantly in motion, and the dust collectors not working, grain dust was suspended in the air all the way up to the top opening. When Pete opened the can, it flashed a flame into the highly combustible dust in the air. When equipment malfunction and human error both occur at the same time, it causes a catastrophe!
Not long afterward, a series of 12 explosions rocked the grain elevator at a speed of 1,500 ft per second, increasing in size as grain dust was shaken loose, making the air more volatile. Forensic experts say that the explosion started when an elevator employee named Pete Garcia opened a can of grain fumigant named Phostoxin that ignited the initial explosion. The can Pete opened had a warning label directing users not to open cans in an enclosed area where grain dust or other flammable materials were present.
What actually happened in the beginning was that Pete Garcia an elevator employee who had been on the job over 40 years had done the job so many times before without an incident so as he neared his retirement he had started taking more and more shortcuts he had rubber knee pads on so he could get down on his knees and crack open the iron lid to the silo weighing 75 to 100 lbs. just enough to slide the door stop under the heavy large iron cover to the silo, Then Pete could just open the can of Phostoxins close to the lid and dump it in the large grain silo. Only this time when Pete opened the can of Phostoxin it shot out a flame that cause the first explosion and took Pete’s life that day as he was the first person killed.
Then one explosion, and then another, snapping like earthquake tremors in the distance, with the rising volume and tremors of the floor told an unmistakable truth – that the building Kevin was standing in would soon be blown into bits and possibly burst into flames. And, in a matter of split seconds, it did. Before he had time to even think or move, the biggest and most powerful explosion blast rocketed the office and blew the wall right out in his face and sent him over a 2-story building over three hundred feet into the air. When rescuers found him, he was over 300 feet away in a parking lot, with his body completely broken over at the chest.
But rather than remain miserable, Kevin did what he now teaches audiences around the world to do – he decided to keep moving forward. By sharpening his body and mind together, he became a world class competitor. Athletically, he won hundreds of gold medals and earned the title of “the greatest all-around wheelchair athlete in the world.” And that success was only the beginning. He’s gone on to feature in a major motion picture, serve under two administrations on the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, participate in “the biggest turnaround in college sports history,” push his wheelchair across North America and Europe, and even pen five books and appear on shows like ESPN, USA Today and countless other national, international and local media outlets.
Ask Kevin how he accomplished any of these things, and he’ll tell you the secret to his success – to never lose your faith in God and Never Give Up! That’s the message he’s delivered to more than 5,000 groups around the world, including more than 1,000 schools, and it’s one he’d love to share with your audience.
Are you ready to “Go for the Gold?”