In the summer of 1972, Hurricane Agnes came through the state of Pennsylvania. I was 17 at the time and was a volunteer fireman and state certified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) with Fame Fire Company #2 in Lewistown. I believe it was a Sunday at about 9:00 am when the fire alarms sounded and I immediately ran to the firehouse which was just a half block from where I lived. Our captain was standing in the doorway of the radio room and was getting everyone to gather in front of him as they arrived. Once he felt all who were going to respond to the alarm had arrived, he began to address us.

“We have received word that the rivers and creeks in our area are about to overflow their banks and because the rain is going to continue for several more hours, the flooding is going to be extremely bad. I need to know who can stay here at the firehouse to be ready to respond to emergency rescues, fire calls, and medical emergencies. We will probably have to remain in the station for at least a couple of days.”

Once he had his volunteers, he sent the rest of the responders who could not stay home and began to make assignments. Since I was a certified EMT, I was assigned to the first run ambulance for medical emergencies. Little did I know just how difficult this assignment was going to be and how it would test the very limits of my endurance.

Endurance is the mental and physical stamina that is measured by your ability to withstand pain, fatigue, stress, and hardship. We will all be faced with times in our lives when we will have to be able to go above and beyond – to dig deep within our emotional strength to enable us to keep our thinking clear and to tap into our physical strength to move forward when we just want to quit. You will never know when a situation in life will present itself and force you to tap into your ability to endure, but you can prepare yourself so that when the time comes, you will be ready. Here are some tips.

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  • Eat well. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we may have a tendency to skip meals, eat fast food on the go, and snack on sweets or gulp energy drinks/coffee to give us a short burst of energy. But our bodies work more efficiently if we eat a balanced diet. So, do some research, attend a class or seminar on nutrition, talk to your doctor, or have a discussion with your personal trainer but create a diet that will meet your personal needs while providing you all the necessary nutrition to allow your body to function at its peak performance at all times.
  • Exercise. When you are called to exhibit strong endurance, having yourself in good physical shape will enable you to keep going even when your body screams stop. Exercise will help you to build this type of stamina because you will have taught yourself to work through the exhaustion and pain to keep going. Of course, if you are about to start an exercise program for the first time or after a long lay-off from such activity, please see your doctor for a complete physical so that you can ensure yourself that you have no underlying health issues that need to be considered before creating a program. If you are not sure how to get started or what to do, find a person trainer who can guide you based on your medical and health factors.
  • Learn to control stress. There are different breathing techniques and meditation techniques that allow you to manage high levels of stress very quickly. Try closing your eyes and picturing a calm scene. Now inhale slowly through your mouth and then slowly exhale through your nose. In a minute or two, you will be surprised at how your stress has been reduced and you will be able to once again get your mind to function at its peak of performance. If you need other techniques, visit your local yoga studio for some tips.
  • Practice. To build your confidence, look for assignments that will require you to work a little harder than normal and will test your ability to endure while under stress. This can be done by starting that project your spouse has been asking you to do for some time, heading up a committee at your place of worship, volunteering with one of the many organizations that need folks every day to roll up their sleeves and just provide physical labor to succeed, or taking on a new role at work that will require you to pursue new and exciting opportunities to learn and grow. No matter what manner you choose, finish every task to the best of your ability by forcing yourself to continue when you are physically tired and your mind is sluggish. [/message][su_spacer]

Here is how I learned these valuable lessons in endurance. I was so glad I was 17 at the time and in good enough shape to endure the challenge.

Once the flooding starting in our little town, it did not take long for the north side of town to be completely cut off from the south side of town. Our sister station with ambulance service on the south side of town could not get to the hospital. We worked with the State Police and found out that there was one spot along the by-pass that went around the town that would allow them the bring their patient into a subdivision on the south end of town next to the bypass. We would park on the shoulder of the bypass and they would carry their patient on a backboard across a lawn and hand them over the guard rail to the driver and me. We would then place the backboard on the litter and load the patient into our ambulance. Carefully, the driver would drive across the grass median and head for the hospital while I attended to the patient’s needs. The next time we had to pick up a patient from them, we would give them their backboard and they would load up the next patient. So, between emergencies to which we responded and emergencies where we had to meet the other ambulance team to transfer a patient, I was awake and responding to calls for 72 hours straight (For safety purposes, the drivers were swapped out but our limitation on EMT’s keep me in the ambulance nonstop). I had to help with rescues, administer first aid to those in my care, and even perform CPR for 40 minutes in the back of the ambulance while the driver maneuvered the back roads and side streets to get around the flooding and so we could get to the hospital. By the time I finally was able to stop and rest, I had pushed myself to the very end of my endurance. However, I had taken care of each person to the very best of my ability. I was tired and my muscles ached but I was grateful that I was able to help our town in this important time when the need was overwhelming for many.

If you are going to be an exceptional leader, prepare yourself, both mentally and physically, to work through stress, pain, and exhaustion to demonstrate endurance during emergency situations.

Len Bernat
Len Bernat
LEN is a leader groomed by 20 years of molding and shaping by some of the finest leaders in the United States Marine Corps. Their guidance helped Len realize his full potential as he moved from an enlisted Marine to becoming an Officer of Marines. Len became known for being the leader who could turn any lackluster organization into a strong, functional unit. Upon his retirement, Len worked in several positions before finally starting a second career in governmental procurement. His experience and leadership skills enabled him to be recognized as the 2011 Governmental Procurement Officer of the Year for the Governmental Procurement Association of Georgia and opened doors for him to teach at many of the association’s conferences. Len was also called to the ministry and was ordained at Ashford Memorial Methodist Church in November of 1999. Today, Len is the Pastor of Maxeys Christian Church in Maxeys, Georgia. Len has been married to his wife, Hazel, for 36 years and they have three daughters, three grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Grab your copy of Len's new Book – Leadership Matters | Advice From A Career USMC Officer. Using his life experiences as examples, Len takes the eleven principles of leadership and the fourteen traits every leader should possess—which he learned during twenty years in the Marine Corps—and teaches the reader how he was molded and shaped by some of the best leaders the Corps had to offer.
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Chris MacNulty
Chris MacNulty

Len, That’s a great article and so true! You must have been an exceptional leader – even back then. Not all leaders have to go through quite the arduous physical experiences that you describe, but there will be difficult psychological ones that keep a leader up at night, anguishing over making the “right” decision. Leadership is much, much more than being out in front, and receiving the kudos and the big bucks.



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