Stories of Overcoming, and the Tech That Makes It Happen

jesus's best quotesThe last overcomer I looked up to was Lance Armstrong. He was crazy good at what he did. Better yet, he had to overcome cancer to do it. For many cancer sufferers, taking their next breath is a victory. Lance did that while repeatedly winning one of the toughest sporting challenges of our time.

Unfortunately, he was cheating. It seems unfair to strip him of all his honors and pretend that there was no real accomplishments to his credit. But I get it. Though his Livestrong foundation is still going, well, strong, the man behind the foundation, and his once good name, is remembered in infamy. To inspire the next generation of overcomers, we need heroes who can be held up as examples. Consider these candidates:

Gary Hall Jr.

Before Michael Phelps, there was Gary Hall Jr. He played a large part in making competitive swimming cool. He was the kind of winner everyone could love. Hall took his first gold metal in 2000, with many metals to follow. He made it into the Olympic Hall of Fame. On their own, his accomplishments are worth noting and remembering. But they do not stand alone. In addition to defeating the world’s best swimmers, he had to defeat one of the world’s toughest competitors. Before that first gold metal, Gary Hall Jr. was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and was told he would never swim competitively again.

One of the technologies allowing diabetics to live normal and productive lives is a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). There is some incredible information available on the blood glucose monitor online. Essentially, it is a sensor inserted beneath the skin with a discreet transmitter adhesively attached to the stomach. It sends continuous information to a device about the size and shape of an iPod nano.

Gary Hall is championing something even more ambitious. In a few years, expect to see the artificial pancreas on the market. It is a closed-loop system for automatic monitoring and insulin injection maintaining blood glucose at a specific level. It won’t be long before overcoming diabetes is just a matter of the right health insurance.

Dr. Stephen Hawking

Seriously, the man can’t walk, or talk, or move in any productive way without the aid of a lot of technology. Yet much of what we know about Big Bang cosmology, black holes, and theoretical physics can be credited to him–after the onset of his crippling ALS. He is sill actively one of the foremost brilliant physicists of our time. His name will forever be associated with the likes of Newton and Einstein. If there was a physics hall of fame, he would have his own wing. Amazingly, he continues to write papers, give lectures, and even produce educational television programs about science.

To accomplish this, he is using something a bit more advanced than a motorized wheelchair. According to The Faculty Room:

Dr. Hawking uses assistive technology to compensate for mobility and speech difficulties. He has used a thumb switch and a blink-switch attached to his glasses to control his computer. By squeezing his cheek muscles and “blinking” an infra-red switch is activated and he is able to scan and select characters on the screen in order to compose speeches, surf the Internet, send e-mail and “speak” through a voice synthesizer.

Juliano Pinto

While Juliano Pinto is no athlete, he became famous because of what he did on a soccer field at the World Cup. He kicked a ball a few inches and gave the world a glimpse of the future. Pinto has no legs. He kicked the ball with a mind-controlled robot suit. This is not some fever dream from watching Avatar for the 57th time. This really happened, and the whole world saw the possibilities.

Disabilities are a fact of life, but so are the people who overcome them. Lance Armstrong’s story will forever be tainted by his lapses of integrity. But that cannot be allowed to stand as the sum total of the man. He competitively raced bicycles while suffering from testicular cancer. Regardless of what he was taking, he still defeated cancer, and inspired a generation of cancer sufferers to do the same. We now live in a generation where people are not mortally afraid of cancer. Lance has got to get some credit for that.

But if you are one who cannot grant that credit, there are many others who also deserve to be in the overcomers hall of fame. It should also be life-affirming to know that you do not have to be a famous entertainer or athlete to be considered an overcomer. Regardless of whether you are a street cleaner or a physicist, you can expect to live life to the fullest. As technology advances, we can look forward to the day when disabilities are no longer a thing to be overcome.

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