In a previous article I mentioned how a winning mind can mean many different things. It can mean to achieve or cope – or deal with adversity – or inspire others. Jack Kavanagh is all of these, and more; and I had the pleasure of meeting him on Saturday, in a windswept Smithfield Square at the Blue Fire Street Fest – where he sat in the rain and cold to share his story and inspire others.

A nicer guy you couldn’t hope to meet and you cant help but be inspired in his presence. In fact, meeting him has inspired me to dedicate part of my efforts to highlighting winning minds in motion. And Jack is the first.

Read his story – and be inspired (courtesy of Donal Lynch July 25 2016)

When student Jack Kavanagh broke his back it seemed like his world had ended, but through his rehabilitation he discovered a hidden resolve that led to both inspiration and adventure

It was the “glistening eyes” at the end of the hospital bed in Lisbon that Jack Kavanagh remembers.

They were set in stricken faces that were bravely holding it together, but had all the telltale signs of imminent collapse. Because of the language barriers at the hospital, the prognosis was unclear but the very presence of his friends and family signaled that this was no ordinary injury.

“My friend Gareth walked around the bottom of my bed, I couldn’t really speak but I just mouthed to him the words ‘it’s going to be ok,'”

Jack recalls. “My mum and dad appeared either side and took my hands and like a bold child I just said to them, ‘I did nothing wrong.’ Then I started to cry and they nodded knowingly and told me they wouldn’t leave without me.”

It was summer 2012, and forty eight hours previously Jack had been on holidays with a group of friends in Albufeira, a tourist town in the Algarve. A keen windsurfer and lifeguard, Jack had dived into the surf without fear – he had already swam in this area of the beach.

The water was much more shallow than it appeared, however – the sands had quickly shifted in the meantime – and he hit a sandbank at high speed.

“My hands were ripped behind me and my head took the full impact. I floated up to the surface face down. I was completely conscious. I had real clarity in that moment, I suppose some people talk about their life flashing before their eyes. I felt a great heat in my neck and then a sort of zapping sensation from my core to my extremities, like small electrical charges from the centre.

In my mind’s eye I saw my family and friends and the people who are close to me.  I got extremely calm in that moment. I knew that panicking would only use up my oxygen more quickly.

It was about a minute before the lads noticed me and took me from the water. Once the air ambulance left they had no idea which hospital I’d been taken to – they had to just call around everywhere to try and find me.”

After two weeks in intensive care Jack was airlifted from Lisbon to the Mater hospital in Dublin. It was only in rehab that he was told the real seriousness of what had happened to him, that he would not walk again and would likely need care for the rest of his life.

“In that moment I decided that is not the way things are going to pan out for me,” he recalls. “That was when I decided that I would work as hard as I could to become as independent as possible on all fronts.”

As the months went on and hard work went in, Jack incrementally regained movement in his arms and wrists. “I moved from what’s called a C4 injury to a C6 injury, and the difference is profound. It’s the difference between being paralysed from the shoulders down and needing assistance to breathe and the situation I have now, where I can use my arms and I’m fairly independent.”

Jack had been studying pharmacy at Trinity College but had to take a year out following the injury. He tried to see what had befallen him in a spectrum of human pain, on which most of us exist. “I have this phrase – everyone has their shit, it’s just boxed in different ways.

You might look across the street and see someone who’s suffering from depression, or alcoholism, or maybe they’re scared to come out as gay. We all have something, some struggle or challenge we are presented with in life, I just think that the difference is that mine is physical and visible.”

He explains that at the beginning he wondered how others would perceive him in his new circumstance following the injury, but quickly learned that people still saw the same person, which was important.

“The way I introduce myself to people is a big thing for me, as it is for everyone. I always recognised that how I interacted with people was something I was in control of. I learned not to hide anything, such as when I need help. I’m open and honest in all respects with people and I think that allows them see the person first.”

Jack is now entering his final year of his pharmacy degree in Trinity but you sense there are bigger things in store for him. The filming he and his friends undertook on the trip has now resulted in Breaking Boundaries, a documentary which will be screened on 3e at 8pm on August 1.

Jack has also gained a reputation as an inspirational public speaker. Two years ago he gave a TEDx Talk entitled Fearless Like A Child, which dealt with the insights gained through the challenge life has thrown at him.

It has been viewed by nearly 35,000 people online. Despite his young age – he is still only 23 – he seems to have the maturity of someone much older.

“When you’re at the lowest you’ve ever been before you can view it as a vulnerable position or you can view it as a place of power – which it is, in the sense that you no longer have anything to lose.

Once you keep challenging yourself, you put yourself in a place where instead of just surviving, you thrive in the face of adversity. I’ve grown out of this and matured in ways that I probably would not have for years to come had it not been for the accident.

I don’t think I was innocent in any way before I was injured, but I had nothing that would force me to grow like this has. So in that way, I embrace it – everybody has their shit, it’s just boxed in different ways.”

Jack is an inspirational speaker and can be booked here

You can view Jacks Ted Talk Here

You can follow Jack on Facebook here

You can view the full article here and read about Jacks amazing world trip