by Karen Eden
Franklin D. Roosevelt won his first term as president of the United States in 1932. The country was going through one of the roughest times in American history. It was FDR who was responsible for steering the U.S. not only through the Great Depression but through World War II, as well.
Life wasn’t going to cut this beloved president any breaks. By 1939, he was battling full-blown polio. It would take away the use of his legs and make him a paraplegic for the rest of his life.
I find it astounding to think that any human being would have the strength and courage to remain “leader of the free world” while battling paralysis. There was, of course, no cure for polio at the time. FDR found himself being dragged to various “health resorts” and to all kinds of unorthodox treatment centers, yet nothing could bring back the use of his legs. The thing is, he refused to be seen as an invalid in the public eye. Even though he was in a lot of pain and fear because his body was failing him, he thought appearing weak in any form would mean letting the American people down.
That’s when FDR’s people decided to construct a special podium for him to stand behind while giving speeches or publicly campaigning. He would have his wife or an assistant support him until he made one last push toward it. Then he would hold himself up on the special fittings — sometimes breaking a sweat as his arms shook — until he was ushered back to his wheelchair.
Was it a case of FDR sacrificing himself for the greater good? Or was it a case of not wanting to appear weak in front of the other world leaders who were watching his every move? Maybe it was both, and more. But whatever the president felt at that time, it was an incredible show of mental strength and fortitude.
Strength and fortitude are things that most of us martial arts instructors would like to apply in our lives and instill in our students. I have had more than one occasion over the past 30 years when I felt personally debilitated. There was the time I was very pregnant and had the choice of continuing to teach or shutting my classes down. Guess which way I went? I didn’t continue to teach because I wanted to prove I was some kind of gridiron chick; I did it because I genuinely cared about my students, some of whom were training right out of rehab or bad marriages. Three days after I gave birth, I went back to teaching.
Today, I have several instructors in whom I have full confidence when it comes to filling in for me, but in the beginning, like many of you reading this, that was not the case. That really makes me think about what’s at the root of strength and fortitude: I believe it to be passion. There’s something about knowing that you are in the zone to teach and lead others who not only look up to you but also feel that you’re making a difference in their lives.
FDR was the only president in U.S. history to serve three terms. Ironically, it would not be polio that took him out in the end; it was a cerebral hemorrhage at age 63. You may notice that not much is ever said about FDR being the president with polio. Instead, he is remembered as the president of great strength and uncommon fortitude. And I am convinced that this is exactly how he wanted to be remembered. It’s called “hangin’ tough,” and it’s a thing of passion.
To contact Karen Eden, send an email to [email protected] or visit the Facebook group “The Eden Assignment.”
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