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Saluting people who never give up

Published June 12. 2010 09:00AM

There are times when playing a game offers something more than a bit of fun.

Sometimes, how we play a game reveals some character traits.

That was the case recently when our kayak club held its annual poker run.

The day before the game, the club president hid waterproof cases with playing cards in trees and bushes along several waterways, then charted the coordinates on a GPS. On game day, the kayak teams, each with a captain and GPS, were given a copy of the coordinates to use in finding the hidden cards.

Each team had to find five carefully hidden cards then bring the cards back to the picnic area. This year, the president tried to make the cards harder to find. They sure were.

Even after teams used a GPS to find the approximate location, it took some sharp eyes to find the cards tucked away in bushes. It also involved a lot of fast paddling on a sultry day.

Most teams took about two hours to find all five cards and get back to the picnic area where hamburgers on the grill and prizes were waiting.

Long after everyone was back, Jim McKenzie was missing in action. His four tired team members came back without him, saying they were ready to quit without finding all five cards. But Jim refused to give up. An hour later, we were getting worried about him. Yes, he's one of the strongest paddlers in the club, but anything can happen when someone is alone on the water. Just as we were about to send out a search party, Jim appeared with all the cards.

He was so hot and so exhausted by the search that he was too tired to eat.

But his persistence paid off. The last two cards he found were enough to have his team win the game.

Yes, it was only a game. But what struck me is that Jim McKenzie played that game the same way he plays the game of life. He never gives up.

Regardless of what life throws at him, he doesn't complain. He just does what has to be done with pluck and valor.

When life hands out adversity, as it so often does, character often determines how we handle it. Some whine and complain, settling into the role of "victim." Others show the same kind of pluck Jim did when he wouldn't quit the game until he did what was required of him.

Lehighton High School has a Winston Churchill quote engraved in tall letters at the entrance of the building: "Never give up. Never, never give up."

I'm often filled with admiration when I see how some persevere though tough times. I've silently applauded the single mother with five children who keeps her sense of humor as she works single-handedly to provide for her family. I know there are often times when she is so overwhelmed that she feels like giving up. She never does.

In much the same manner, I've watched others spend long years caring for an invalid spouse or for aging parents. Anyone who has ever been in that situation knows it often isn't easy. But so many do it with love and with grace. As Dr, Laura Schlessinger says, they "do the right thing" without giving up.

When it comes to not giving up, Ken Ryno is one of the most inspirational people I've ever met. When he was 18, Ken was in a motorcycle accident that left him a quadriplegic. After months of therapy, movement only returned to one arm.

But Ken used that one good arm to keep exercising his other limbs, trying to regain some movement even though doctors said it was impossible.

Days turned into months and months turned into years. Nothing much happened except the Monroe County man didn't give up. He kept pulling on those paralyzed legs, trying to activate his muscles.

Incredibly, he did that for 24 years. Can you imagine never giving up after all those years of no results?

One day a home health care nurse noticed a ripple of movement in Ken's leg. She convinced doctors that he could benefit from more physical therapy.

When Ken was wheeled into a rehab hospital, he vowed he would walk out of there. Months later, through unbelievable resolve and grueling physical work, he did. There wasn't a dry eye in the place.

Hospital workers lined the hallway to salute the man who simply wouldn't give up.

Some said it was a miracle that he regained some movement. Maybe it was. Or, maybe it was the just reward for a man who exemplifies a spirit of perseverance.

Life is still not smooth for Ken. He gets one setback after the other, both physical and financial. But he never gives up.

He often visits rehab hospitals to motivate other patients. His message to them is simple: "Never give up hope. Never give up fighting."

So, here's a salute to all those who play the game of life without giving up.

And here's some quiet applause to those who may bend from their trials and troubles, but they refuse to break.

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