Anyone fortunate enough to be a parent, knows that one of the most difficult things to do is watch your children struggle. Our instincts tell us that we need to protect them from pain because we love them. In some cases, that is true, but in many others, we could be short-circuiting their learning and not allowing them to develop the coping/life skills they need.
Last week, my wife and I were waiting to board a plane in San Diego. While sitting in the terminal, we noticed a fit, young man sitting across from us in the terminal. He had an Ironman Triathlon bag and fresh racing numbers on his hand and arm. He also had a service dog with him. He was clearly an athlete – and he was clearly vision-impaired. As fate would have it, when we loaded the plane, I had the good fortune to sit next to this young man – Kyle Coon – and he was able to share his story with me while we flew to Denver.
When Kyle was 10 months old, he was diagnosed with bilateral sporadic retinoblastoma, a form of cancer in both eyes. He underwent multiple treatments, but by the time he was 6 years old, both eyes had to be removed. Since then, he has excelled in many things. He was a college wrestler, and an avid skier and an accomplished rock climber. Currently, he is a resident-athlete at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is a world-class athlete who is training hard, and has a very good chance of representing the United States in the triathlon at the 2020 Para-Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan.
Kyle credits his tenacity, drive, and grit to the way his parents raised him. He said that their constant encouragement and support were amazing. The greatest gift they gave him was the will to test his limits and persist! In a nutshell, they were masters of creating productive struggle for Kyle. He knows they were tempted to make accommodations for him to make his life easier, and he is thankful that they resisted that temptation. They supported and encouraged him, and just as importantly, they allowed him to fall and fail along the way so that he could overcome short-term setbacks to become the resilient young man that he is.
This is a lesson that we can all learn as we strive to do what is best for our children and our students. May we all love them enough to encourage and support them while we let them fall and fail – and eventually get up and succeed!