The end of OctoberHalloween day to be exactwill mark 40 years since the tragic turn of events that transformed Ken Kunken’s life into one marked by inspiration and motivation.
`I try to encourage people to meet their challenges head on; to not be afraid to take chances and make difficult choices. To try and continue to dream what’s possible and keep expectations high,` said Kunken.
Kunken was 20 years old in 1970. He was playing sprint football at Cornell University when he broke his neck during a football game, severing his spinal cord and rendering him a quadriplegic, almost entirely paralyzed from the shoulders down. With such a debilitating injury at such a young age, he could easily have given up.
But he didn’t, and now as a deputy bureau chief for the Nassau County district attorney, Kunken’s name is forever attached to the Allegiance Bowl’s MVP Award, given out at the end of the annual Collegiate Sprint Football League’s Allegiance Bowl game held in Saratoga Springs. This year’s game features Navy and Penn facing off.
`I’m very honored this award has been named after me. It’s very humbling to know people look at me with those eyes that I can inspire and motivate people and that’s encouraged me to actually do that and try to speak to groups and organizations throughout country,` said Kunken, who has attended the event for the past five years. `The people of Saratoga Springs have been so warm and supportive and we look forward to coming back every fall.`
On Friday, Oct. 1, Kunken will speak about `determination, inspiration and grit` at 10:30 a.m. at the Holiday Inn in Saratoga Springs in the Exacta and Quinella Rooms. Members of the Navy’s football team will be on hand as well as Charles Wait, Kunken’s former fraternity brother and chairman and CEO of Adirondack Trust, a main sponsor of the Allegiance Bowl.
Kunken’s speech will be similar to the presentations he gives around the country.
`I’ve benefited so much from people helping me, that I want to encourage others to help people that might need a helping hand; it makes such a difference in long run. I tell people to keep expectations high, not only for themselves but others too, because peoples’ performance often rises and falls based on what others expect of them. We can all bring out the best in ourselves and others if we keep that in mind and never stop dreaming. We’ll be able to accomplish anything we set our minds to,` said Kunken.
A large part of his journey from despair to triumphant determination is thanks to a strong support system that helped him through the toughest of times, said Kunken.
`I had a lot of help and encouragement from a very special and supportive family. I knew they always believed in me they would act as my arms and legs to make sure I wasn’t limited in anything and wouldn’t miss out and I’ve been able to live a useful and productive life,` said Kunken.
Kunken said his positive mindset wasn’t a change that happened overnight, and he went through an extensive rehabilitation process that included more than nine months in the hospital, but he eventually made a promise to himself that he wouldn’t miss out on a single thing that he had always wanted to do.
That included getting married and raising a family, which he accomplished in the same way he’s lead his life for 40 years`against the odds.
`I met my wife when I was almost 50 and we decided we wanted to have children,` said Kunken, who used medical technology to conceive his triplet boys, now five. `Children are something that changes everyone’s life.`
Kunken’s sons are healthy, curious and beginning to ask questions, which he faces head on.
`They ask questions more and more as to what happened to me, but they feel it’s very natural to be around somebody that’s in a wheelchair and who has certain physical limitations. I love them and can be a father to them and do many of the activities that other fathers can do with their children,` said Kunken.
He has faced the unimaginable, said Kunken, but right now his biggest challenge is raising his children, which he said is the most enjoyable he’s ever faced.
`I love being a husband and father and having a close family. I went to back to school night for kindergarten last week, which was emotional but also thrilling for me. A lot of things are continuing to happen that makes me spend time reflecting, but I’m very proud to say I’m in a very good place in my life and feel good about myself and what I’ve done,` said Kunken.
More information about Kunken’s life and his presentations can be found at www.kenkunken.com.