Wheelchair Athlete & Motivational Speaker Del Mar College, Texas
By Madeline Patton
Hard work and dedication can bring out the champion in everyone says Kevin V. Saunders, the world record holder in the wheelchair pentathlon from 1990 to 1992.
Saunders was a federal inspector until April 1981 when the South Texas grain elevator he was inspecting exploded, propelling his body 300 feet onto a concrete parking lot nearby. Ten people died in the fiery disaster. The building was destroyed. When paramedics reached Saunders, they found him suffering with a broken back, collapsed lungs, and massive internal injuries. He was paralyzed from the chest down. Doctors told his family he would probably not survive. He was in a coma for a month.
When he finally returned home, one of the first things he did was enroll in Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Tex. "I did it to prove to myself that I could make it, that I could do something with my life," he says. He had previously attended community colleges in his native state of Kansas and earned a bachelor’s degree from Kansas State University.
"It was attending Del Mar 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."
Those endeavors are dauntless by any measure. They include being a medallist at the Seoul and Barcelona Paralympics, winning gold medals at the Pan American Games, and winning a silver medal at the Stoke Mandville World Wheelchair Games in England. He was named "Best All Around Wheelchair Athlete in the World" from 1990 to 1992 after breaking world records in the Wheelchair Pentathlon in those years.
He started the Wheelchair Success Fund to encourage physically challenged individuals to contribute to their communities and has performed with Tom Cruise in the movie, Born on the Fourth July; written his autobiography, There’s Always a Way; and developed a national reputation as a motivational speaker. He also created a comic book series featuring wheel-chair-bound action heroes.
Saunders is the first person with a disability to be appointed to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. He is now the senior member of the council, having been appointed first by former President George Bush in 1992 and re-appointed by President Clinton in 1994. He is currently working with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to develop lightweight, state-of-the-art wheelchairs.
For the past 10 years, Saunders has taken his message of hope and determination to youth groups, community organizations, medical facilities, and schools across the nation and throughout the world, telling them that "every adversity contains the seed of an equal or greater benefit."
"Never quit," he tells his audiences. "There’s always a way."