A champion of sport — and life

During a long life full of travel and meeting untold thousands of people, I have had the honor of speaking with a handful of individuals whose life stories have truly inspired me.

One meeting happened quite by happenstance recently at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. Since I was early to the airport for my scheduled flight, I decided to have a cup of coffee and read the paper in American Airlines' Admirals Club. There, I noticed a young lady at another table, sitting in a wheelchair. She was busy ordering food and talking to some people. She had a pleasant way about her, with an infectious smile. Just before I left for my gate, I stopped by her table to say hello.

Her name is Anjali Forber-Pratt, and she indeed is a very warm and gracious person. I told her about a good friend of mine, Ed Eckenhoff, the founder and former CEO of the prestigious National Rehabilitation Institute in Washington, D.C. Ed is a paraplegic and often beats me at golf. I offered that to her as a way of letting her know there were others in the world who are handicapped and have done incredible things while overcoming daunting obstacles. I thought possibly Ed's story would serve as inspiration to her.

Little did I know.

After I had finished speaking, she told me in a soft voice: "I recently participated in the London Paralympic Games as a USA Team member. I also participated in the IPC Athletics World Championships and hold the World Championship in the 200 meters and silver medalist in the 100 and 400 meters. I also participated in the Beijing Paralympic Games and was the bronze medalist in the 400 meters and 4x100 relay."

Frankly I was so stunned I didn't know what to say, except that I was honored to meet her and I hoped that she didn't mind me coming over to see her. Anjali was most gracious about the whole thing and then gave me a card that listed more of her athletic achievements and bio. She holds a PhD from the University of Illinois. She is co-author of the book "Color, Learn and Play," about sports for athletes with physical disabilities and was the recipient of the United States Olympic Committee Amazing Mentor Award.

Her life story, I read later, is even more amazing. Born in Calcutta, India, Anjali lived in an orphanage for two-and-a-half months before being adopted by a family in Natick, Mass. Two months after arriving in the United States, she contracted an illness resulting in the diagnosis of transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder that affects the spinal cord. Rushed to the hospital, she was not expected to live. However, her fighting spirit prevailed and Anjali survived. Transverse myelitis left her paralyzed from the waist down.

What some people might view as a tragedy, Anjali would come to view as a positive life-altering event. Through this adversity she developed an innate drive and determination that she has utilized in every facet of her life. She was a top disabled skier as well as wheelchair runner.

It serves once again as a reminder to all of us what determination and courage can do! Instead of giving up in the face of what might seem a hopeless situation, Anjali and other courageous souls pick themselves up and go forward to do incredible things. We can only marvel at these stories, testaments to the absolute miracle of the human soul. There is a motto all of us should follow no matter what the odds: "Never give up!"

So when you are overwhelmed by the challenges you face at work or in life, think about Anjali Forber-Pratt and how she has responded to bigger challenges her entire life. I think you will be as inspired as I am by her example.

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