Achilles Freedom Team athletes have experienced some of the toughest challenges life has to offer. Cigna recently sat down with Master Sargent Cedric King and Staff Sargent Earl Granville, two Freedom Team members, to hear their powerful, personal stories of perseverance and resilience in the face of tremendous adversity.
Cigna International Markets’ Deputy Chief Counsel and Achilles Board of Directors co-chair, Jonathan Prokup, and Cigna U.S. Medical’s Dr. Nicole Saint Clair, joined King and Granville to underscore how resilience is a skill that resides in each of us – and it’s our responsibility as colleagues, teammates and friends to support and empower each other to live our healthiest lives, today and in the future.
A resilience mindset and learning to come back stronger
During Master Sargent Cedric King’s third deployment as a U.S. Army Ranger, his platoon conducted a reconnaissance of a possible explosives distributor creating improvised explosive devices (IED). As he approached the location, the force of a bomb lifted him off his feet and threw him back. He sustained right hand disfigurement and became a bi-lateral amputee as a result of his injuries. He is now an Achilles Freedom Team athlete and has run marathons and climbed mountains.
Despite the challenges, King has faced throughout his life, he is grateful for his journey, saying he wouldn’t have this opportunity or mindset had it not been for the challenges he experienced.
“When I get knocked down, it’s an opportunity for me to come back even stronger,” said King.
A coat of armor
To better understand resilience in America, Dr. Saint Clair reflected on the past year. “We’ve all experienced a lot of difficult things including a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic and the day-to-day uncertainty and anxiety we feel from not being able to follow our normal routines, to political unrest, to racial violence and natural disasters.”
“What we need now more than ever, is resilience,” said Dr. Saint Clair. “Resilience can get us through this tough time and to the better days that we know are waiting for us ahead.”
The Cigna Resilience Index found that resilience is at risk for 60 percent of Americans. The study also found that lower resilience is linked to worse physical and mental health, and lower academic and professional aspirations. However, there are a variety of ways to increase one’s ability to recover from challenges.
Dr. Saint Clair described resilience as an individual’s coat of armor that life experiences will chip away at, but that we have the power to strengthen our resilience.
“This can be done by managing your physical and mental health, having access to tools, building stronger connections and surrounding yourself with a diverse community,” said Dr. Saint Clair.
Staff Sargent Earl Granville served nine years in the Army National Guard as an infantryman, with deployments to Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. On his final tour, he lost his left leg through the knee to a roadside bomb while on a patrol that took the lives of two other men he was with.
During his time at Walter Reed, Granville says he was optimistic, realizing it was not going to be the end. His more difficult challenge was dealing with the loss of his twin brother, who died by suicide while on active duty.
“How could I get this second chance, and have my own twin brother take his away,” said Granville.
Granville said he realized early on just how important having a community was.
Moving forward and supporting others
While dealing with the loss of his brother and recovering from his physical injury, Granville started getting more involved in his community. Through those experiences he discovered that reaching out to those around, and being vulnerable, can be a source of strength.
He said he found a mission after taking his uniform off, and that was to help others going through similar challenges.
“I truly believe the relationships that we build with one another can go a long way,” said Granville. “Kindness goes a long way.”
King added that it can be as simple as keeping in touch.
“The only thing we have right now, is right now,” said King. “We don’t have tomorrow, we don’t have yesterday. We have right now. So pick up the phone, reach out, send an email, drop by the house.”
Cigna and Achilles
In 2020, Cigna became the presenting sponsor of the Achilles Freedom Team, and is dedicated to supporting the Freedom Team athletes while they stay safe, healthy and active in this ever-changing environment.
“If there’s one thing we can learn from the Achilles community, it’s the power that we each have to not only strengthen our own resilience but also to help those around us,” said Prokup, who has participated as an Achilles support guide for the last eight years.
“It’s a privilege to share the road with athletes who don’t just talk resilience, they live resilience.”
Hear more of these inspiring stories by watching the entire conversation, available here