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A Lesson in Strength from the Greatest Generation

Coach Caleb’s Corner

                              A Lesson in Strength from the Greatest Generation Tom Brokaw coined the phrase “the greatest generation” referring to the one born between 1914 and 1929. This was also one of the strongest generations. The strength of body, mind, sprit and character exhibited in so many of our ancestors from this era is undeniable. Members of our gym have likely noticed the new displays in our front lobby area commemorating some very important and inspirational people for Kati and I; our grandparents. Without them, there would be no Breakthrough Strength & Fitness. They exemplified much of what made the greatest generation so great. We wanted to be able to feel their warm, confident and no-nonsense presence in our training facility in the hope that they might share some of their strength with all of us who strive to achieve ever better versions of ourselves.

There are a lot of reasons we focus on training strength at our gym. It remains “the mother attribute” for us; the one which takes priority in the hierarchy of skills to practice. We know that training strength is a key component to promoting our efforts in fat loss, achieving greater health and longevity and even increasing endurance, but it’s much more than just that. It has a higher purpose. Strength is a gift we can share with others. I prioritize strength training in all it’s forms so that I have some to spare for those who might need it, whenever they need it, and so that I’m less likely to need to borrow strength from someone else. We are fortunate that our members share in this ideal. Just the other day, one of our amazing members who works in healthcare shared with me how he single-handedly lifted a fallen patient off the ground because he was the only one available to help at the time. (I didn’t want to embarrass him here, but you can ask me who it is the next time you visit the gym:)) This is a big reason why we train; to be able to share our strength with others.

Like many of their generation, our grandparents seemed to naturally feel obligated to be strong for others. They possessed a keen desire to take responsibility, to answer a call to action, to give what they had without worrying about whether or not there might be anything left for themselves. Kati’s grandfather, Robert Denbow, was a Marine Corps Sharp Shooter and participated in the Pacific Campaign with the First Division at Guadalcanal during the Second World War. Like many of his vintage, he didn’t talk about his experiences much, but the medals he earned speak for themselves. He contributed to an action which is regarded as a turning-point in the war, and marked the Allied transition from defensive operations to holding the strategic initiative in the theater. When he returned home to Illinois he set to work on building a house to raise a family in. A feat which my grandfather on my father’s side also accomplished because it would seem that if you were born into the greatest generation and needed a house for your family, you could figure out how to build one. These were some can-do, get-it-done, and “don’t just stand around congratulating yourself, let’s get on to the next thing” kind of people.

In 1941, my grandmother on my mother’s side, Grace Powell, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and was posted to the Queen Victoria College Hospital, located 50km south of London. This Air Force Hospital specialized in treating burns and performing plastic surgery on badly injured pilots and air crew members. Grace was a food technician; responsible for assuring that the wounded airmen’s nutritional needs were properly met at the different stages of their recovery. On an evening in 1943 in a pub in Harrowgate, Yorkshire, Grace was introduced to a young flight lieutenant who worked as a Wireless Operator/Gunner. His name was Harvey Powell. As these two knew how to recognize a good thing right away and were not afraid to take action, they didn’t need to wait for a war to end to get married. My grandfather, Harvey Powell, had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force at the age of 19. He was posted overseas, completed his training in Bournemouth, England and joined a squadron with Bomber Command. He then completed an astounding 57 flights in Wellington and Halifax bombers, with an all officer crew of seven before being told to “Stand Down.” He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross; an honor awarded to Officers and Warrant Officers for an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty performed whilst flying in active operations against the enemy. These were two of the strongest people I’ve ever had the privilege to know. They were humble in their strength, but they shared it freely with those in need.

The inspiration provided by these amazing people helps to remind me that strength has a higher purpose and is more than muscle. Yes it’s fun to train, it’s great to look and feel great and to be able to accomplish big things in the gym, but when we become strong we also take on a new responsibility; to share our strength with others, to be strong for those who can’t be, and to remain humble because there will likely be a day when we will need to lean on the strength of others.

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