It can sometimes be hard to remember how precious life is when you’re busy commuting, trying to pay the bills or are just generally exhausted. But it’s fellow Canadians like John Cairns, a double amputee who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro this past August, who remind us of how precious life really is, and how we can make the most of it.
After losing a leg and an arm in a tragic work accident when a rail car ran over him, Cairns has come to epitomize inspiration. He went through physical rehabilitation as well as emotional grief. And little by little, he was able to change his outlook on life and do something ordinary people wouldn’t even think of doing: climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
Not only did he climb a freaking mountain after his injury, he also founded the Wheelchair of Hope Foundation (that brings wheelchairs and other mobility devices to people who can’t afford it), manages Voice of Victory (a company that aims to inspire others) and has participated in a number of other related services. Amazing, right?
We’re glad it’s not just us that recognizes his incredible willpower to enjoy and experience life. Earlier this week, Canada’s Walk of Fame announced that Cairns will be receiving the Peter Soumalias Unsung Hero Honour (an award for being awesome) in October. And after Cairns shared some wisdom with us, we’re convinced that he, without a doubt, deserves the honour.
What changed your mindset throughout your journey, following your injury?
John: The change process was over a period of time. I continually reflected… why I was alive; why I didn’t die. There must be a reason why… My medical team told me I beat incredible odds to be alive. This remained an ember in my heart and in my psyche that refused to burn out. This ember began to burn deeper and brighter despite the myriad of day to day challenges to overcome and accept.
Did any specific resources or groups of people inspire you to climb the mountain?
John: This idea had been culminating in my heart and spirit for a couple of years. At a first glance, I knew Mount Kilimanjaro represented the impossible. I knew that ‘impossible’ was just a big word. Through heart, passion and commitment to success; I was going to change impossible to the possible.
How did you keep yourself motivated during your climb?
John: I fuelled myself with my “why” reasons before I took my very first step. You have to know your “why.” This became my rod and staff which picked me back up when I fell, when I hit the physical and mental wall of doubt and fear, my purpose became my ultimate reserve tank. My purpose was to advocate the inspiration of possibilities, and to lead by example that anything is possible when you believe.
How do you feel after finding out that you’ll be receiving the Peter Soumalias Unsung Hero Honour?
John: Words would not begin to articulate how humbled and honoured I feel. Seems quite surreal. I was given a miracle of life, and it is my purpose to give the miracle back to humanity, to inspire, encourage and empower others to live life to the fullest. To have been nominated and selected is representative of my life mission and vision. I am so very grateful for this award.
What would you like to convey to other people who have physical disabilities and are struggling to find their footing?
John: I would like to convey my own personal philosophical statement that changed my life and perspective, which says, “it’s not what happens to you in life, it’s how you choose to respond that will make a difference.” You are greater than your circumstances. You must be tougher than your life. I implore you to never give in. Never give up. Focus on what you can do; not what you cannot do. Believe in yourself… that you have greatness in you. It will not be easy; but it will be worth it!… You are where you are for a reason. Now go after your purpose and use it to be a blessing to others!
Brilliant words from a brilliant, inspiring man.
“John feels that his whole purpose in life is to help and inspire others and he has done exactly that for our whole community,” said Carol Ann Fellows, who nominated Cairns for the award. “He never gives up and he gives unselfishly of himself to all others. There isn’t a time where you don’t see John or spend time with him where he hasn’t made you feel like you have a purpose and a new reason.”
If one Ontarian has the power to change so many lives and inspire so many people, you also have power to accomplish anything and everything. You just need to push for it.