Some people climb Mount Everest to become famous. Other people run across the country to show how much they can endure in distance. Athletes like these embark on onerous challenges to prove that they are strong enough to accomplish honorable feats.
Others, however, are inspired by a special person to do something extraordinary for a good cause. For world-famous athlete and climber, Bonner Paddock, this special person was “Jakey. That boy lives in my heart forever, along with all of the other special needs kids out there.”
In his motivational talk titled, “The Pursuit of Happiness: Thinking Positively to Thrive,” which took place on Monday, May 16 in HUB 302S, Paddock revealed that “Jakey” referred to Jake Ryan, a four-year-old boy with cerebral palsy who he met during his first full marathon in 2006, but passed away that very night. Jakey’s garrulousness and upbeat personality despite his condition touched Paddock and taught him that strength is a choice. As Paddock later stated, while pointing to his head, true happiness “comes from up here, the strongest muscle in the body.”
In Jakey’s honor, Paddock created the “1 Man 1 Mission” (OM) Foundation, which empowers and supports children with disabilities, and raised funds for it by becoming the first person with cerebral palsy to climb Mount Kilimanjaro unassisted in 2008. Four years later, he became the first person with cerebral palsy to complete the Ironman World Championship triathlon, indeed reaching both the end of the line and the fruit of his ceaseless motivation.
Paddock started his motivational talk by focusing on adversity. Having been born with cerebral palsy, Paddock grew up struggling with everyday activities, which put him at a social disadvantage from his peers, such as being forced to be the goalie on his high school soccer team.
“I was the goalie — the kid that didn’t run well. I used to (put) undue pressure on myself. (I thought doing) that would make me popular and happy and everything else.”
Although Paddock couldn’t change the way his team and schoolmates thought about him, Paddock later discovered that he could control how he felt about himself.
“It’s 100 percent my choice whether I have a good or bad attitude or a bad attitude today. We all have control over our attitude. (We don’t have control over having) a good day or a bad day — but we do over a good attitude.”
Believing in one’s ability to get over an obstacle to reach the finish line was an important lesson for Chrissie Wellington, another famous triathlete Paddock talked about, who injured herself in a bike crash two weeks before competing in the 2011 Ironman championships. Despite receiving severe road rash and crushing her pectoral muscle in the crash, she courageously resumed with her training and ended up completing the run in 2:52:09, second only to the time she finished with in 2009.
While being in control of your attitude can keep you on the right track to lifelong happiness, everyone else around you is pursuing the same destination, making the journey there unfulfilling if traveled alone. That is why Paddock said that “the greatest lesson in my entire life is giving as many hugs and smiles as I possibly can because they’re free.”
One of the people who showed Paddock this powerful lesson was Juliana, a 16-year-old girl from Tanzania who Paddock met during the OM Foundation’s 2014 mission trip. Because of a birth defect that caused her right leg to grow out of her hamstring, she has walked her entire life on her knees.
When asked what got her through 16 years of walking on her knees, she said that it was hugs and smiles — actions that are so simple, yet priceless.
Although Paddock is world-famous for his groundbreaking achievements, the journey he spoke about was not of his physical conquests of Kilimanjaro or the Ironman Championship but that of his spiritual expedition to true happiness. Paddock endowed most of his success to compassion and positivity rather than to physical strength or strenuous training, demonstrating that being strong on the inside is more important than being strong on the outside when reaching for the top of the mountain.