What People With Disabilities Can Teach You About Resilience

“I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man who had no feet”
― Helen Keller

Can you imagine your life without feet?

Most people would cringe at the thought! Whether it was your feet, an arm, your thumb… it doesn’t matter as much. There is a certain fear that goes with losing one’s ability to function as they normally do today.

At the same time, what always fascinates me is that so many of the “able bodied population” (as we like to call it in the sledge hockey/Paralympic world) always look up to Paralympians and people with disabilities as some of the most inspirational, resilient, and incredible people on this planet.

A manager friend of mine was sharing how inspired he was about one of his employee’s positive attitudes, despite using a wheelchair everyday.

Which led to me asking these three questions,

  1. Why do we find Person With Disabilities (PWD) so inspirational?
  2. Why couldn’t you adopt the same mindset in your role?
  3. How can you adopt the same mindset in your organization?

Let’s take a look at number one:

1) Why do we find PWD so inspirational?

When it comes down to it, I believe the number one word that defines why they are inspirational is because PWD are resilient. 

They find a way to adapt. 

They find a way to make the best of a situation. 

They choose to be creative and look for new solutions.

They don’t focus on what’s missing, they focus on what’s there… or rather, they don’t focus on what’s happened to them, they focus on what they can do about it.

As a manager, how many times do you feel like you are falling victim to your circumstances?

  • My team isn’t listening to what I have to say. They don’t understand me or deliver on time.
  • Our organization is changing, and I don’t know what my future looks like. I’m living in anxiety but keep being told to not worry.
  • My project just got pulled out from under me and now I not only won’t receive credit for the work I did, but I have to start all over again.

There are so many instances where it is easy to blame people, the organization, or other circumstances for your situation! 

These challenges are going to continually come up for you, and the more you can find ways to deal with them in the moment, the more resilient you become and the more impact you will have in your role.

I challenge you to start asking yourself how you can accept responsibility for your situation?

  • Did I miscommunicate to my team? Was I clear enough in my directions?
  • Does my team need more support? Have I given them the tools they need to succeed?
  • Why am I not succeeding as a leader? What are my blind spots? Who can I ask for support?

Whatever situation you are facing today, one of the best qualities that PWD face is they must find ways to adapt, often very quickly. 

As a manager, that is one of the most valuable skills you could ever acquire since you will frequently be taking direction from a Director and Executives to execute someone else’s vision. 

It’s a mindset that will not only benefit you in the workplace, but something you can adopt in your everyday life.

Which leads me to number two…

2) Can you adopt the same mindset?

As a Paralympian, one thing I’ve experienced time and time again while speaking to large groups and organizations is that many people will tend to put me on a pedestal. In fact, any Olympian/Paralympian for that matter can often get put on a pedestal, where we hear comments such as:

“You’re so remarkable, I could never do that!” 


“I don’t know how you do it. It seems impossible for me.”.

The truth is, you can.

Not everybody is cut out to be an athlete, let alone an Olympic or Paralympic athlete, but every single one of us can Be The Hero of Our Own Movie

Every single one of us can adopt the mindset that enables you, or your organization, to start to drive results and embrace change.

When I was a kid, my dream was to meet my action sports hero’s like Tony Hawk or Travis Pastrana, and when I met them it was one of the craziest moments because as I got to hang out with them backstage I realized that they were normal people, just like me.
Seeing them as human beings, not just as a celebrity, is what truly helped inspire me to go after my dreams of becoming a professional Freestyle Motocross rider.

So, when you see PWD as an inspiration to you, how can you begin to see yourself in their shoes? 

How can you start to envision yourself adopting the same mindset as they have? 

Ask yourself, how can you begin to unlock your unknown greatness and see yourself stronger than you actually are?
Which leads my to my third point:

3) How can you adopt the same mindset in your organization?

Since I retired from Paralympic sport in 2015, I saw two things.

  1. The sport of sledge hockey needs to grow.
  2. PWD need more opportunities to thrive.

And so, I created The Sledge Hockey Experience, a corporate team building program to help not only bring people together on the ice for an insanely fun day of teambuilding, but to bring awareness to the challenges PWD face and how you can adopt the same mindset to overcome them, and to learn how you would (or could) accommodate someone in the workplace if you were presented that challenge.

Let me ask, what would life be like for you if you had a disability?

How would you navigate your new world?
How would your perspective change? Would it?

Would living with a disability help you see the potential you have within yourself? 

Would you finally discover that resilience that you or your team have been looking for all along?

How quickly would you adapt to change? 

In life and in business it can happen overnight.

Life offers us different opportunities. At the same time, life goes up and down. We need to roll with the punches and don’t ever quit.” 

“And if you say you’re ready to stop and you’re going to quit, you’re right.”

It is my hope that by getting you #BUTTDOWN in a sled that you can help change your perspective on what is possible for you and your organization by learning from people with disabilities.

Managing others is a challenge as much as it is to navigate your own challenges, but by seeing life from another perspective and thinking about why PWD are so inspiring, you can begin to think differently about the problems you face, and ask better questions on how you can embrace your current situation.

And so, in closing… trust that you have the same resilience in you as a PWD. You too can adopt that same mindset that drives results and embraces change. 

It doesn’t take you losing your legs, an arm, or anything to understand that. It simply takes you believing in yourself and a shift in your mindset about what is possible.

If you or your team would be interested in a unique team building experience and getting #BUTTDOWN on the ice, please check out www.playsledgehockey.com.

And the next time you see someone with a disability, ask yourself, “How can I adopt that same mindset?”, and help change the face of your organization, and be the hero in your own life, and for your own team.

Enjoyed this article? Here are 3 more articles to help you succeed:

How To Turn Depression Around: Spiral Up, Not Down

Ask The Right Questions And You Will Get The Right Answers.

It’s OK to ask for Help!

Download your FREE copy of my autobiography, Still Standing: When You Have Every Reason to Give Up, Keep Going here.

Related Articles