LAWRENCEVILLE, GA — Gwinnett Technical College kicked off their Veterans Day celebration on Thursday welcoming Master Sergeant Cedric King to campus to share his powerful, motivating story about overcoming adversity.
The Duluth High School Color Guard opened the event presenting the colors and Jennifer Hendrickson, Director of Institutional Advancement for Gwinnett Tech Foundation, sang the national anthem. Dr. Glen Cannon, president of Gwinnett Technical College, welcomed the crowd, sharing a genuine message of gratitude to all who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. Dr. Cannon said, "It is my wish for each and every veteran that you (1) hear a thank you from someone every day and (2) that you never tire of hearing it. We are truly grateful to you for the sacrifices you have made for our freedom."
Dr. Cannon then gave some back-story to the crowd about Master Sgt. King’s story. King entered the United States Army in 1995. As King graduated from a number of distinguished Army schools, his career took him from an infantry private to a position of leadership in the elite Rangers. On July 25, 2012, during his second tour in Afghanistan, King was severely injured by an improvised explosive device.
The blast caused major internal injuries, permanent loss to part of his right arm and hand, and the amputation of both legs. He applied the same determined, can-do mindset to his recovery that he had relied on to succeed as an elite Army Ranger. Just 21 months after losing both legs, King completed the Boston Marathon, running on prosthetic blades. He has since gone on to compete in a number of physically daunting events, including a 70.3-mile half Ironman Triathlon, the 2014 New York City Marathon, and the 48.6-mile Disney Marathon series. As Dr. Cannon welcomed Master Sgt. Cedric King to the podium he told the crowd, "We are truly blessed to have a true American hero with us today." The room burst into applause as King took the stage.
King stood strong and proud before the crowd wearing a suit with pants cut off at the knees. He wears his prosthetics proud. He said, "Over the last 4 years I've found what's really important in life. It's not about what clothes we wear or what job we have or what car we drive. It's who we really are inside that really matters."
King told of the day he was injured. He was sent on a reconnaissance mission to affirm the location of a suspected Taliban site. They were to go quietly by foot, get soil samples, take pictures and retrieve the evidence needed to take out the cell. When they arrived at their destination the team split up and he followed the group searching the outer perimeter. King was called inside to verify findings and declared the mission complete. As he dismissed the team and turned to go back to camp, his next step proved life changing.
King tripped the wire on an IED and took the full force of the blast. He described it as "surreal." He said, "I didn't know what had happened. A force just threw me back and when I landed on the ground I felt like I was on fire. I was disoriented and couldn't comprehend what had happened." Luckily for King there was a medic with them that kicked into action quickly. King shared how all he could think about was that he wanted to tell his family one more time that he loved them and how much they meant to him. He explained that as people worked to help him it felt as though he was in an episode of M.A.S.H. "I remember riding in a helicopter and being taken to a medic tent. I remember doctors and nurses being all around me and then a mask came down on my face. The next thing I remember was waking up with my wife and mother standing over me. It was seven days later and I was in Maryland."
King woke that day to a whole new paradigm. To save his life they had to take his legs. Up until that day he considered himself strong. But the fight before him would show him where his truth strength lied.
King went on to share the many lessons he learned along his journey. He shared how his whole identity was wrapped up in what he did, not who he really was. He told how he had to find himself and learn who he was beyond the stripes and badges on his chest. He talked about how he went from striving to compete with those around him to competing with the negative "I can't" voice inside himself. One of his biggest realizations was, "Falling down is inevitable. It’s how you work to get back up that matters."
One of the biggest lessons King learned through it all was that adversity and challenges in life sharpen and hone us to be better than we ever knew we could be. He stressed that when faced with obstacles that we need to embrace them. "The obstacle is not there to kill you. It's there to build you. Don’t fear challenges. Challenges are there to prepare us for the blessings to come." His secret to success was to always "Give it all you've got."
Kings powerful words stirred many in the crowd. Del Dagrella, a veteran that served 11 years in both the U.S. Navy and Army National Guard said, "Those were good words of inspiration. They were great lessons that are applicable to everyone’s life." Two Gwinnett Tech Cardiovascular Tech students shared how King's words applied so much to their lives as they prepare to graduate and launch their own careers. Applonia Joiner-DeRouen said, "I liked how he stressed the importance of moving on from trials in your life. How it’s important not to compare your life with others and just focus on being the best you can be. It's good advice." Najma Abdallah said, "I really like how he said what I do doesn’t define me but who I am. That really spoke to me."
To learn more about the Gwinnett Tech and the programs and Office of Veterans Affairs, visit GwinnettTech.edu or call 678-226-6343.
November 14, 2016