I hope everyone is ready for the Holiday season that we’re entering into this time of year. I’m sure you are already looking forward to getting together with FAMILY & FRIENDS. As you reflect on your 2018 so far, what do you have to be thankful for this season? Sometimes we must put things in perspective as we go to our Thanksgiving gatherings and really look at what we have to be thankful for in our lives.
Being Grateful Is a Choice
We shouldn’t get too caught up in material things in our lives, as those things come and go. It’s more important that we look at the blessings in our lives and in our family… no matter how tough we may feel we have it in life! I know many of us have different challenges in our lives: financial concerns, health issues, lack of success in our personal or business lives. But how often do you pause to appreciate what you DO have in life?
I grew up as a young man on my feet, and I enjoyed life, through my early school years all the way to past my college graduation. However, I recognize now just how much I took for granted. I think up until a certain point in our lives, most of us do. While we are youthful, we really don’t understand what life holds for us, and a “normal life” just doesn’t seem like that big a deal. Even after graduating from Kansas State University and taking a job as a Federal Inspector, I learned that there were all kinds of workplace hazards, but I never gave it a second thought as I never thought anything bad would ever happen to me.
Soon after, when I was 23 years old, I was almost killed in a terrible explosion that destroyed the facility I was working in. The blast hurled me over the length of a football field, and caused massive injuries, including severing my spinal column. I was given a one percent chance of survival, but somehow beat the odds over a long and painful period of recovery. I was sent to The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR) to learn how to live in a new, paralyzed body. In that place, I met a lot of people who were worse off than I was. It was there that I learned that while I had lost the use of my legs, I still had the use of my arms and my body from the chest up. I saw many young men and women who couldn’t move anything but their heads.
That’s when I started to count my blessings.
Newspaper headlines the day after the explosion Kevin was injured in.
I realized I had so much to be thankful for, such as the use of my arms. And I still had my full mental faculties, which many in TIRR didn’t. This gave me the opportunity to reinvent my life from a new body that was completely paralyzed from the chest down, with no normal control over my body functions.
I could never walk or run again. But there were still a lot of things I COULD DO.
For many people in a difficult situation, that’s often the hardest thing to come to terms with. It’s so easy to focus on what you can’t do, or the obstacles that bar your way…that you don’t realize that you still have the ability to focus on countless other things that you CAN do and achieve. It isn’t easy, and it takes time, but if you have a NEVER GIVE UP attitude, you can accomplish many great things – no matter what challenges you may encounter. When you really think about it, you will realize that you do have many things to be thankful for.
Left: Kevin Saunders during the Spring of Freshman year of high school, painting the family picnic table.
Right: Kevin Saunders posters for schools and students during the Live Your Dreams Tour.
I believe that it’s important to look at all the things you DO have, even if it’s just the fact that you are above ground and breathing. And that’s just a starting point. Many of us have so much in our lives that we take for granted, things that other people just don’t have.
When you reflect on this truth, it’s important to stop and be thankful. And that feeling only becomes more powerful when you act generously toward someone else. I was raised in a Christian home and we went to a small country church where I learned many important values. One thing I recall was that our preacher, Reverend Stuart, was speaking about the importance of how it is better to give than to receive. I have always remembered it to this day.
That is one of the reasons I started 2 important non-profit organizations, one of which provides scholarship money to help people confined to a wheelchair attend college after an accident.
Acts 20:35 of the Scripture says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” I remember my earliest school years, when I rode the school bus from my country home to the town school and back. Once, in the 7th grade, I had 3 miniature candy bars in my small duffel bag. I gave one to my best friend since kindergarten, Jack Myers, and the other to his older brother, Bob, who was a high school junior. Another student, Roger, who was a classmate of Bob’s, grabbed my duffel bag and opened it up. To his surprise, he discovered that I only had one candy bar left. Roger was baffled, as I am sure he thought it was full of miniature candy bars. When he saw that I only had one more, his reaction was to ask if I only had 3 candy bars, why would I give 2 of the 3 away to my friends? Roger just couldn’t understand the concept “that it is more blessed to give than to receive.” That is one verse and sermon in church that I really took to heart.
Giving Is a Powerful Habit
Throughout my life, I’ve practiced giving and philanthropy so that I could help others in a meaningful way. It hasn’t always been easy, or convenient, but it has always been the right thing to do. This habit has proven to be one of the most fulfilling things I can do.
In the first few years after my recovery, I connected with Downs High School, which I attended in Downs, KS. I learned about the school’s needs and donated computers, shop equipment, audio-visual equipment, and typewriters. In 1985, I was inspired to donate a new track facility (“Saunders Track”) to Downs High School, where I had been a track and field athlete just 10 years before. For decades, the school’s track team only had a dirt track to practice on. Amazingly, in 1989, the Downs High School Track team went on to win the school’s first State Track & Field Championship. Many of the seniors on that state championship team were just freshmen when we dedicated the track in 1985.
In 1990, I founded the Wheelchair Success Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to providing scholarships for college or technical schools to people with disabilities and permanently confined to a wheelchair.
“Every life has value. A disabled person, such as one confined permanently to a wheelchair, is not exempt from earning a college education and contributing to the growth of America. Persons permanently confined to wheelchairs are no less able to be successful college students or citizens.”
In 2004, I founded the Fitness 4 All 50 State Tour, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to educating our nation’s youth, parents, teachers, and administrators about the importance of staying active and making healthy choices for balanced nutritional meals or healthy snacks. I then embarked on the Fitness 4 All 50 States tour to promote lifelong health and fitness. I pushed my wheelchair across the USA, covering over 2,500 miles in my racing wheelchair. In each state, I met with Governors and their Health & Human Resource teams, Mayors and their city councils, community business leaders and local students, speaking to them on the importance of staying physically active and eating healthy foods. Along the way I received over 100 mayoral and state Governors Proclamations declaring “Kevin Saunders Day” for my work in promoting proper nutrition, health and fitness locally and nationally.
Finding a reason to be grateful isn’t difficult. Just think about your blessings and be thankful for what you have! No matter how difficult or challenging your life may be, you’ll find something to give thanks for. Above all, remember that being generous – giving – is a sure way to make a positive impact in someone else’s life. You can give your time, money, appreciation and encouragement, which will give you a spiritual lift during the holidays as well.
I wish you all the very best. I hope these few examples will touch others’ lives. Unless you’ve had a real tragedy in your life, people tend to forget to be thankful and that it’s better to give than to receive.
Wishing you and your family and friends a blessed Thanksgiving holiday!