Twenty-one-year-old Art Berg felt confident in his bright future. He had a strong faith. He and his beautiful fiancé were planning their upcoming wedding. He owned a growing, successful business. He enjoyed perfect health and excelled in many sports. Everything in his life lined up perfectly—smooth sailing all the way.
But at Christmastime in 1983 his ride through life careened from the paved road of promise and skidded violently into a ditch. On his drive from his home in California to see his fiancé in Utah, the driver of his car had fallen asleep at the wheel.
Art woke up in a Nevada hospital, alarmed that he couldn’t feel or move his arms or legs. His doctor informed him that the accident had rendered him a quadriplegic. Plus, he had lost the use of his chest and stomach muscles, and several other functions. The doctor told him that he would have to change his plans— he would forever need someone to dress him, feed him, move him from place to place, drive him wherever he needed to go, and worst of all, few in his classification marries and has children. The doctor told him that he would have to dream new dreams, and think new thoughts. His idyllic life had tragically been snatched from him on that Nevada desert highway.
Yet, in spite of the rude and devastating prognosis from his doctor, when his mother first visited him in the hospital after one of his many surgeries, she whispered softly to him, “While the difficult takes time, the impossible just takes a little longer.”
His doctors, the new Eeyores of his life, continued to focus on the limits under which Art would live for the rest of his life. Here’s how Art responded,
“At one point, I asked the doctors why they were so pessimistic about my future. Their response was, ‘We just don’t want you to get a false sense of hope.’ “I was silent for a long time. And then something clicked inside me. ‘No,’ I said. ‘All you’re doing is giving me a false sense of hopelessness. And that’s not the way I’m going to live my life.’“It was a breakthrough moment for me. I was not going to let myself be defined by my problems. I was not going to follow the doctors’ advice and focus on the enormity of the new life that I had.”
His mother’s encouraging message, “the impossible just takes a little longer,” became Art’s motto. He promised himself that he would force himself into an independent life. When the time came to select a wheelchair, this quadriplegic rejected the motorized versions and selected a manual one that would require him to regain some use of his upper limbs.
He couldn’t grasp the wheels with his hands, he had to use his shoulders to push his hands against the wheels. This process was made more difficult by the absence of feeling in his hands. But he began very slowly. He literally inched his way down the hospital halls. He learned to grasp eating utensils in his rigid hands and awkwardly feed himself.
Through consistent effort, his wheelchair skills grew. And in spite of many, many mishaps, some he describes with humble humor, he learned to become independently mobile. Art figured out ingenious ways to dress himself.
He found work that would accommodate his limitations and received numerous sales awards—he had something to prove.
He even went on to break the world’s record for long-distance quadriplegic wheelchair racers in his classification when he completed a 325-mile ultramarathon over the Utah mountains in seven days.
Eventually, he started another business. He traveled the world speaking 150 dates per year about how he proved his doctors wrong and achieved the impossible. His speaking practice grew, and his message of hope cheered millions.
Art Berg taught his audiences:
1. We can achieve the impossible if we consistently strive toward our goals
2. Defining ourselves by our problems only serves to reinforce limits
3. Courage is taking action in spite of our fears
4. Challenges make life sweeter and richer
5. Responding to setbacks with humor and determination help us overcome discouragement
These lessons apply to us all.