Kevin Saunders Speaks on “Transitioning Tides” to the Texas Association of Community College Marketers (TACCM)

by / Monday, June 27, 2016 / Published in Motivational & Inspirational Speaking

Kevin Saunders delivered a keynote speech in front of more than 150 representatives from the Texas Association of Community College Marketers (TACCM) earlier this month. This was an especially significant presentation for him, because Kevin truly believes in education, and he has the personal experience with the life changing opportunities that community colleges can have on an individual, whether they are just starting out or making a transition in life.

A Higher Education

As a young boy, Kevin had planned on saving his money to go to college for a good education, get a good job, marry a nice girl and raise a family. After high school, attending a community college helped him to get a great start on college and helped him find success, both in the classroom and in sports. Even after graduating from Kansas State University and becoming a federal inspector for the USDA, Kevin would get another chance at higher education. The Corpus Christi Grain Elevator explosion paralyzed him from the chest down, and his life was forever changed. After spending almost a year in the hospital recovering from his severe injuries, it was Del Mar Community College that helped him get his life back.

Kevin Saunders speaks on Transitioning Tides for TACCM

Kevin gets the crowd engaged to emphasize his points about the importance of reaching higher goals than ever before!

Kevin Saunders speaks on Transitioning Tides for TACCM

Kevin speaks to the attendees to the Texas Association of Community College Marketers (TACCM). His motivational keynote presentation kicked off their convention, inspiring community college marketers to help students Live Their Dreams. Special thanks to photographer George Gongora of Corpus Christi, TX.

After Kevin took his high school ACT’s, he found out he could attend universities, Division II or community colleges. Community colleges stood out above all because Kevin was receiving scholarship offers to participate in sports. When Kevin compared what he would get from community colleges compared to his other options, he found that at a community college, he would be able to get more attention in smaller classes than anywhere else. Kevin also learned that all of his credits from community colleges would transfer to a university so he could continue on towards a Bachelor’s Degree, as well as taking sports to the next level.

Kevin's Community College experience

Kevin decided to play football, soccer and compete in Track and Field at the community college level. The classes he enrolled in helped him succeed in his studies and be a successful student athlete. When the time came to transfer out, Kevin chose Kansas State University. It was a smooth transition and he was better prepared for the classroom on a much larger level.

Kevin graduated from KSU and took a job as a Federal Inspector for the USDA based in Corpus Christi, TX.

Where Kevin had grown up in the Midwest, his friends and he had heard of grain dust explosions and how they were more explosive than dynamite or gasoline, approaching atomic energy based on the tremendous force that can be created in a grain dust explosion. When those friends asked Kevin if he wasn’t afraid of being caught in a grain dust explosion, Kevin always responded, “It’ll never happen to me!

Kevin loved the Government job he had accepted. Not only did it offer a fast track to promotions, but if you worked hard it could take someone all the way to a great post in Washington, DC. This job would also allow him to travel to different countries and see the world in first class style.

In his first eighteen months working as a Federal Inspector, Kevin had the opportunity to travel extensively up and down the Gulf Coast, visiting Mexico, Canada, and other international destinations to tour large elevators and cities and sites worldwide.

It was Kevin’s second day at the Corpus Christi Public Grain Elevator when he heard what sounded like an earthquake off in the distance. A series of 12 explosions ripped through the grain elevator at 1,500 feet per second, each growing in magnitude as more grain dust was shaken loose and added to the combustible fuel source, destroying the grain silos that day.


Picture taken from across the ship channel shows the last explosion that completely destroyed the building Kevin was in, leaving nothing but the concrete foundation. Kevin’s supervisor, Albert Tripp, hit the floor that day and was one of the people who lost their lives in what the experts said was the worst explosion of its kind in history.

Kevin was blown through the roof, over a 2 story building over 300 feet (over the length of a football field) in the air. He landed hard on his head and shoulders. The force of the blast blew his legs right over his torso breaking his body over at the chest and breaking his ribs and spine like people bend at the waist. At the hospital Kevin was given less than a 50% chance of survival.

Despite his diagnosis, Kevin spent over a month in a coma in ICU, then several months in a body cast, before finally being moved to a rehabilitation center in Houston, TX. Now Kevin had to learn how to start life anew, paralyzed from the chest down (in a body cast), confined to a wheelchair with NO CORE Balance or ability to walk. He was depressed and angry because he missed all the sports he loved on his feet, and now he would be “grounded” with no real interest in anything else. The realization of his situation was a constant torture.

One day, Kevin was rolling through the arts and crafts room at the rehabilitation center when he saw a guy by a BIG picture window with sun shining in. He was painting a skyline. Without turning around, the painter greeted him, cheerfully saying, “Hi, it sure is a beautiful, bright, shiny day today, don’t you think! My name’s Mique, what’s yours?” Kevin replied, “What are you so happy about? Who cares what kind of day out it is? You’re stuck and caged in this hospital just like me!” Mique could hear the negativity in Kevin’s voice because he said, “It’s not what happens in life that matters…it is what you choose to do about it that matters most!”

Mique's painting

Mique’s Painting – He painted great skyline, didn’t he? The most amazing thing wasn’t only his positive attitude on life. It was also that he painted this picture completely paralyzed from the neck down!

Kevin was so glad to hear Mique’s words that day. He was going to be leaving the rehabilitation center shortly, and he hadn’t had anything to look forward to with any sense of positivity. These words would chip away at his depression and frustration steadily, allowing him to take responsibility for his happiness in the days ahead. And that portrait? Mique was painting it with a brush held between his teeth. He was paralyzed completely from the neck down.

It wasn’t long after Kevin had returned home and his rugby friends had helped him make his home accessible, that he had to start planning for the future. Inspired by Mique’s wisdom, one of the very first things Kevin wanted to do was see about getting enrolled at Del Mar Community College. Kevin thought that if he could find success and excitement about learning in the classroom, it might open some more doors for finding success in other avenues of his life!

Kevin went to Del Mar Community College and saw an advisor who helped him enroll in classes towards a major he was interested in: Kinesiology. Kevin was ready to get going in a positive direction. Kevin’s goal was to make all A’s in all his classes, and to overcome the huge obstacle that was his disability. Kevin says: “We all face obstacles in life, change and challenges that seem almost impossible to overcome. We all want to find ways to be successful at what we are doing in life.”

Addressing the marketing professionals at TACCM, Kevin knows that they have faced – and will continue to be confronted – by great challenges, both personally and professionally. And among those is meeting the needs of their students and bringing new opportunities to them and their communities. They are building a leadership workforce to better prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s jobs, and that is critical for the state and country as a whole.

Saying YES to Change

The world is changing! We don’t like change, but sometimes it’s necessary to survive!

Del Mar Collage

Kevin Saunders was invited back to Del Mar College to help share his story of how Del Mar College gave him his life back after the terrible grain elevator explosion that left him paralyzed from the chest down confined to a wheelchair.

Del Mar Community College gave Kevin the education, resources and confidence to get back into the swing of life and get involved in wheelchair sports, meet other people and just learn to live in a world designed for able-bodied people!

“Education was, and continues to be, a major force in my life. Education is so important to me, because it is the foundation for all my accomplishments. Going back to Del Mar Community College after my horrific accident has shown me what courage, perseverance and determination really meant. In all my endeavors I continue to use the self-confidence gained from excelling in my classes at Del Mar Community College. It is my desire to help all people excel in their life endeavors.”

Saying YES to learning at Del Mar Community College was also an important stepping stone towards saying YES to other opportunities: wheelchair sports, road races, international athletic competition, acting, working with the Kansas State University football team, becoming a top motivational speaker, and even getting involved with politics as a member of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. Saying YES is facing a challenge and imagining something greater on the other side. Like it or not, we have to change with the times if we want to stay competitive and solve our biggest problems. Excelling in his classes at Del Mar Community College gave Kevin the greater confidence he needed to become the world’s greatest wheelchair athlete and one of the top speakers in the world.

Kevin served as a spokesperson for Del Mar College, encouraging people who wanted to get an education that they could accomplish things most people might not think are possible.

Community Champions

Kevin believes that sports and real life mirror each other in many ways. And when we face something overwhelming, we need to learn, adapt, and prepare ourselves to embrace new opportunities. This isn’t always comfortable, but Kevin can say that community colleges helped him get started in a larger world, and find greater courage and self-confidence under difficult circumstances that break the spirits of most people. To anyone facing a great challenge, Kevin says “NEVER GIVE UP! You must FIND A CHAMPION WITHIN!

A few points Kevin likes to stress when it comes to making comparisons of sports to real life to help give others the extra edge in life. You have to be willing to push yourself on the job like you would if you were competing in the sports world.

  • I love the sports world! Because athletes are NOT afraid to sweat!
  • I love the sports world because it doesn’t tolerate weakness!
  • I love the sports world because to be successful, you’ve got to produce!
  • You’ve got to step up and meet challenges in order to succeed!
  • There’s NO shortcut to success but good, old-fashioned hard work!
  • You’ve got to give your MAX effort every day!
  • You’ve got to do what it takes to win. Be a winner!
  • Don’t be afraid to fail, prepare for perfection and always go out expecting to win at all you do!
  • You’ve got to be a BIG time player!
  • Make BIG time plays that BIG time players make in BIG time games!
  • Be successful and WIN TOGETHER!

“I have a disability. I’m completely paralyzed from the chest down. But, I’m not going to let my disability control my life! I’m going to continue to do, and accomplish, great things! And I know everyone here will help their students reach their goals & accomplish great things, as well! You all have the ability to inspire others through building up your community colleges. I know…because my experience attending Del Mar Community College changed my life and inspired me to Never Give Up!”

Kevin Saunders, Keynote Speech to Texas Association of Community Colleges (TACCM)

At the end of his presentation, Kevin displayed the Outstanding Alumni plaque he was awarded in 2000 by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). He recalls that when he saw the list of former recipients (famous actors, politicians, sports figures, Olympians, astronauts and business leaders) – famous names recognized around the world, he said, “OK, but I don’t think I have a chance!” Thanks to the hard work of Claudia Jackson, Rosalinda Reynoso & Melinda Eddleman, Kevin was named as the Outstanding Alumni  in 2000, selected from over 1,500 community colleges in America. At TACCM 2016, Kevin invited Claudia, Rosalinda and Melinda to the stage, where he presented the plaque back to Del Mar Community College, along with a gold medal, to show his appreciation for the role Del Mar Community College had in giving him his life back.

Saunders was presented the Outstanding Alumni Award from the AACC in Washington D.C. in 2000

Presidential Republican candidate in 1996 and former long-time Senator from Kansas, Bob Dole, joined Saunders for the celebration when he was presented the Outstanding Alumni Award from the AACC in Washington D.C. in 2000.

Kevin said when he received the Outstanding Alumni award at the AACC convention that:

“It was attending Del Mar Community College after my accident that enabled me to understand what strength and determination really stood for,” Saunders says. “I was inspired by the way my mind — after such a severe injury — responded to my studies and the rebuilding of my broken body. I believe the self-confidence I gained from excelling in school is used in conjunction with all my endeavors.”

Here is the link from 1982 to present of the recipients of the AACC Outstanding Alumni Award:

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.

One Response to “Kevin Saunders Speaks on “Transitioning Tides” to the Texas Association of Community College Marketers (TACCM)”

  1. Guillermo Chutrau says :

    Hello Kevin. It was a pleasure and an honor to meet and talk to you and your friend at the Buffalo Bayou today. Thank you very much for sharing your stories and motivational messages that I’m passing along to my friends, coworkers and family. Happy training, Champ !