Mark Ackerman, PA-C

Mark Ackerman, PA-C

By Mark Ackerman, PA


In 2013 the book entitled “The Boys in the Boat” was published by Viking Press. Written by Daniel James Brown, it is a story based on the true events of the US Olympic rowing team who in 1936 beat a highly rated German team for the Gold Medal in the 1936 Olympic Games held in Nazi Germany. The book features the life of a young American named Joe Rantz who grew up in Spokane, Washington. To say the least, the odds were against Joe ever becoming a rower, let alone winning that Gold Medal.  His mother died when he was 4 years old and at 5 he came down with scarlet fever. His Dad, who could not take care of him, put him on a train, by himself, and sent him to his Aunt and Uncle’s house on the east coast. His Aunt and Uncle didn’t know what to do so they put him in the attic of their house for a year. Eventually, without treatment, he got better and at the age of 6 they put him back on the train, again by himself, and sent him back home to Spokane.


Despite his Dad remarrying, things didn’t change much.  Joe’s stepmother didn’t want much to do with him. One day, at the age of 15, Joe came home from school and found his dad, stepmom and stepbrothers all packed up ready to move. His stepmom didn’t want Joe to come along, so at the age of 15, at the beginning of the great depression, Joe started living by himself- this time, truly alone. He put himself through school and later attended the University of Washington where he not only earned a degree in Chemical Engineering, but, became an athlete on the varsity rowing team and later won the Gold Medal at the US Olympic Games in front of Adolph Hitler.  To say the least, Joe Rantz led a remarkable life marked by both adversity and triumph. Joe not only survived where most people would have thrown in the towel, he also thrived.


Another man from the same era named Major Wooten, was a Private in the US Army during WWII. At the age of 104 he survived Covid-19.  At the age of 105 he was bestowed the French Legion of Honor for his work in Paris, France during the war, repairing bomb-damaged trains.


The point of these stories is not that all of us will face difficulties in our life and some of us will survive. That is just a fact. The point is that all of us will face difficulties in our lives and what matters most is how we face them; how we overcome them.


Although we may not hear of it, many other Americans are living remarkable lives despite facing extreme adversity every day. In today’s world one of those adverse things we continually hear about is Covid-19. While it is true that our nation and our world are struggling with this pandemic, I think it is good to remember that we can, and most have, won the fight against this struggle.  While we know that Covid has killed 865 thousand people in the United States to date, we also know, and should celebrate, the fact that almost 70 million people in the United States have survived Covid -19. Unfortunately, we don’t hear much about that triumph.


So, being infected with Covid -19 is far from being an automatic death sentence. There are factors that help determine who lives and who dies from Covid-19. Some of the biggest factors that make a difference are advanced age, COPD, Diabetes and Chronic Kidney Disease. As mentioned in my previous articles, Covid-19, like many other diseases, tends to kill the unhealthy.  So what I think needs to be emphasized more in our world is to make yourself as healthy as you possibly can with the tools you have at hand, so that you can properly face the specific adversary of Covid-19.


To be blunt, it means to start a fitness regime, start drinking more water, start drinking less alcohol, start checking in on loved ones and help them achieve a healthy lifestyle, start walking, start seeing your medical provider again, start seeing a medical provider if you haven’t had one, find a hobby that brings you joy and a purpose, find a job, find a new career, plant a garden, clean out the attic, read a How To book….. Get healthy mentally and physically.


A friend of mine who is a critical care physician and treats the sickest of the sickest told me one time that when it comes to survival, one of the biggest factors that determines who lives in a “last ditch effort” situation is the patient’s will to live. The greater your will, the greater your chance. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have that attitude before you ever got to that “last ditch situation?”  I think we can but for some of us it will take an extreme effort, and that effort begins with our will to be healthy. It begins with trying to win the battle within ourselves before the battle without ever appears.


The American writer, William Arthur Ward, once said “Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.” I can’t help but to think about guys like Joe Rantz and Major Wooten when I hear that quote. These are people who should inspire us to become stronger in the face of our struggles. After all, it’s not the struggle that always gets us in the end, but how we face them! Let’s face our struggles with the will to win!