Profiles in Personal Resilience, from STRONGER: Pat Rummerfield

StrongerToday on our blog we’re featuring one of the inspiring individuals featured in STRONGER: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed, by George S. Everly Jr., Ph.D, Douglas A. Strouse, Ph.D., and Dennis K. McCormack, Ph.D. These writers–a stress management expert, a skilled entrepreneur, and a Navy SEAL–draw on their own unique perspectives, extensive research on resilience, and wide-ranging examples of standout people to show why some thrive under pressure while others succumb to it. One of these standout people is Patrick Rummerfield.


Patrick “Pat” Rummerfield is not only a living example of tenacity; he is a living miracle—the world’s first fully recovered, functioning quadriplegic. Born in 1953 into an abusive family, Rummerfield was removed from his home at an early age and placed in an orphanage. By the age of 7, when he was adopted, Pat had learned to be a fighter.

On September 20, 1974, at age 21, Rummerfield and a friend, in the midst of a bachelor party, were in a car accident. While traveling at a speed of 135 miles per hour, Rummerfield’s car left the road and hit a ditch with such force that, on impact, the passenger’s seat was sheared away from the car. He went halfway through the windshield, popped his right eye out of its socket, sliced his scalp, and, along with breaking just about every bone in his body, broke his neck in four places—vertebrae C-3, 4, 5, and 6—crucial to mobility. At C-4, 85 percent of his spinal cord was severed. According to the initial evaluation, Rummerfield would have only 72 hours to live. A week later, his doctors declared that, despite beating staggering odds against surviving, he would live his remaining life as a quadriplegic from the neck down. In the 1970s, most quads were sent to nursing homes with a life expectancy of only three to five years.

Unable to move anything, Rummerfield was also paralyzed with fear about how he could possibly cope, emotionally, how he could take care of himself, physically, and who would take care of him, financially. “These questions run through your mind late at night,” Rummerfield reflects. “I remember watching the night janitor buff the floor… Three months earlier, I would have been thinking that poor guy, life dealt him a rough hand…Lying in the bed, I would have given anything to be buffing the floor at 1 in the morning.”

Rummerfield’s comeback began when he was lying in bed thinking about how much he would like to play basketball, and how he would love to drive a race car. At that point, his toe moved. Against his physician’s advice, Rummerfield insisted on beginning a regimen of intensive daily physical therapy.

Thanks to his relentless tenacity, Rummerfield has recovered the ability to use his arms and legs—powerfully. In October 1992, he competed in an Ironman triathlon. In 1997, he became one of only 82 people in history to complete the Antarctica Marathon. Chosen to become a member of Christopher Reeve’s rehabilitation team, Pat Rummerfield now works on the staff of the Kennedy Krieger Institute’s International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution. He also gives presentations on spinal cord rehabilitation, as well as resilience.

See our previous Profile in Personal Resilience here: Abbey-Robin Tillery


Adapted from STRONGER: Develop the Resilience You Need to Succeed (AMACOM August 2015).

Dr. George Everly, Jr., Ph.D., is considered one of the “founding fathers” of the modern era of stress management and disaster mental health. He currently serves as Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Public Health at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Professor of Psychology at Loyola University Maryland, and Executive Director of Resiliency at UMBC Training Centers.

Douglas A. Strouse, Ph.D., is the Managing Partner of Wexley Consulting HRD, LLC, an international management and consulting firm. He is also the founder of Global Data Source LLC, a national data management and services firm, and is founder and President of the Chief Executive Officers Club (CEO) of Baltimore, a nonprofit organization that provides an educational forum for executives of small and mid-size companies.

Dennis K. McCormack, Ph.D., is one of the original Navy SEALs, and he pioneered SEAL combat doctrine and tactics in Vietnam. Serving as a supervisory psychologist for the Department of Defense (Army), he received official commendation for meritorious performance of duty for demonstrated professionalism and dedicated commitment to excellence as Chief, Department of Behavioral Medicine, Winn Army Community Hospital, Fort Stewart, Georgia.


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