When retired Army Master Sergeant Cedric King crossed the finish line of the Boston Marathon in April 2014, he made a statement that said anything is possible despite obstacles faced in life.
“I had to believe that with every seed of frustration and difficulty, with every setback and heartache and heartbreak, with every little challenge or tear there was something that had an equivalent benefit,” King said.
King shared his experiences overcoming adversity with Queens College students and faculty members during a Disabled Veteran Awareness Program event on Nov. 2 in the Student Union Ballroom.
King joined the Army in 1995 and has taken on some of the military’s toughest assignments. He is a graduate of the Army’s Jumpmaster course, Pathfinder course, Air Assault course and the elite Ranger School.
He is also the recipient of numerous awards including the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Meritorious Service Medal.
On July 25, 2012 King’s life changed forever. While conducting a reconnaissance patrol in Iraq, King stepped on an improvised explosive device.
“Normally when you take a look at your feet you know exactly what way they should be pointing,” King said. “This is the first time, when I looked down where I thought my foot should have been, it was pointing a different way.”
“And all the dirt that was all over the place, it was like brown before the explosion,” he continued. “But now it’s all pink and it is just blood and dirt everywhere.”
While lying in the dirt, he recalls regretting passing on the opportunity to not call his family in the days prior to the mission.
“If you ever get a chance to tell the people that you love ‘I love you and you mean the world to me,’ you need to do it,” King said. “Not just because it makes you feel good but there’s something it does for yourself that you might not even know about.”
King spent the next eight days in a coma and woke up in Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD. Not knowing this, he was confused when he saw his mother and wife at his bedside.
“I’m asking them, ‘what are you doing here? This is Afghanistan, mom. What are you doing here? There’s bad guys outside the door right now,’” King said. “And it hasn’t dawned on me that I’m on the other side of the planet.”
“The first thing I wanted to do was be back with my guys,” King said. “You miss the times that suck the most and I don’t know how it works that way. And I wanted to be back with my men. I wanted to be back with the guys I fought beside.”
His wife, Khieda, had to reveal to King that the doctors were forced to amputate both his legs.
“I cannot remember being in a moment that low, ever,” King said. “I can remember thinking that my entire life is gone and all that I’m left with is what I’ve got left, which isn’t much at that moment.”
He began to question what will happen next and what lesson he was meant to learn from his experience and situation.
The answer came to him while he was watching Oscar Pistorious compete in the 2012 London Olympic games.
“I’m looking at a guy with no legs compete against other Olympians, able-bodied Olympians,” King said. “And I say to myself, I think I can do that.”
Despite skepticism from his doctors and, at times, even himself, King refused to allow himself to be defined by his challenges and the obstacles in his way.
“Life knows exactly how much to give you,” King said. “But you have to stay in the fight. You need the challenges to make you better.”
Approximately 21 months after losing both legs, King successfully completed the Boston Marathon running on prosthetic blades.
“You become who you’re supposed to be under the adversity of life,” King said. “You make the adversity your friend. You make adversity your sparring partner. Not to hurt you and not to knock you out but to make you better.”
“When the obstacles do come, when the challenges do come, understand this,” King said. “They are your friend. And one day you’ll be able to say, ‘this was the best thing that ever happened to me.’”
Today, King continues to inspire both veterans and civilians. He recognizes the importance of nonprofits and foundations and is establishing foundations himself to help veterans with their transition to civilian life.
One of these foundations is Battlefield C.E.O., which King hopes will assist veterans succeed in corporate America and as entrepreneurs.
“We want to take the experiences from vets and turn it into a way that vets like myself can look at themselves as executives. What I wanted them to do is leave that platoon and leave that company and saluting officers and I want them to take all that know-how and bring it right to these boardrooms,” King said.
King believes it is important for veterans transitioning from service to not forget what made their service unique and special.
“The military taught us how to deal with obstacles and it seems like when we get out we throw all of that away and we fold under what happened,” King said. “And it’s not that we have to suck it up and drive on. It’s to lean on the team. You’ve gotta have a team. The military taught us not to be individuals because the challenge is always smaller than the team.”
Dennis Torres, the veteran outreach specialist at QC, believes King’s story is inspirational and shows how much people can accomplish, despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
In the future, the QC Veterans Club hopes to expand its veteran awareness programs on campus, and plans to invite successful veteran entrepreneurs to speak at future events.