Kevin Saunders (born December 8, 1955, in Smith Center, Kansas) is an American paralympian, author, and motivational speaker. He was the first person with a disability appointed to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, and remains the only person to serve two consecutive terms under different administrations, first under George H. W. Bush, and later reappointed by President Bill Clinton.
Two years after his injury, Kevin Saunders was persuaded by a friend to enter his first wheelchair race, the Peachtree Road Race 10K. Lacking the proper equipment and training – he attempted to complete the course in a hospital wheelchair unsuitable for racing – he was disqualified from the event for failing to maintain pace with other competitors. Despite the early setback, however, he continued to enter competitions, finding success at the regional, and then national levels.
In 1984, Saunders won the bronze medal in the National Wheelchair Athletic Association's Track and Field competition. He would go on to win hundreds of medals in both domestic and international competitions, including:
• Gold medal, 1986 (pentathlon) World Track Competition, Adelaide, Australia
• Bronze medal, 1988 Paralympics, Seoul, South Korea
• Gold medal (pentathlon), 1990 Pan American Games, Caracas, Venezuela
• Gold medal (pentathlon) and world record, 1991 Track and Field Championships, Stoke Mandeville, England
• Gold medal (pentathlon) and world record, 1992 Paralympics trials, for Barcelona, Spain
• 1996 qualified for (pentathlon) the Paralympics and competed in 1996 Paralympics Trials, Atlanta, Georgia
After winning the World Track & Field Championships in England in 1989, Saunders was declared "The World's Greatest All-Around Wheelchair Athlete". At the 1992 Paralympic Trials in Salt Lake City, Saunders broke the pentathlon world record.
President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports
In 1991, Kevin Saunders became the first person with a disability to be appointed to the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports by President George H. W. Bush. In 1994, Saunders became the only person to be reappointed to the Council by President Bill Clinton. He served on the Council until 2000. Under President George W. Bush, Kevin was named to a Commission by the President's Council on Physical Fitness and the Department of Health and Human Services to come up with a plan to improve fitness and Health for people with disabilities. Commended for his help in the creation of the National Initiative on Physical Fitness for Children and Youth with Disabilities or the I Can Do It, You Can Do It Program.
Kansas State Football
In 1991, Saunders spent time at his alma mater, Kansas State University, researching improved wheelchair performance with the school’s engineering departments. Mutual friends introduced him to football Head Coach Bill Snyder, who was impressed by Saunders' story and asked him to serve as a motivational coach to the team.
Saunders remained in that role with the team through 2005, during which time the team went from being one of the worst in the country to one of the most consistent winners, including a run of 11 straight bowl games. The change in the program was later dubbed “the greatest turnaround in college football history.”
In 1993, Coach Bill Snyder created the "Kevin Saunders Never Give Up Award" for the Kansas State football team. The award was given to the player who displayed the most courage, determination, dedication, and perseverance in the pursuit of team goals. Many of the award winners have gone on to NFL careers.
Saunders became a motivational speaker and consultant shortly after the Paralympic portion of his athletic career.
In 1989, Kevin Saunders worked alongside Tom Cruise and Oliver Stone as a principal actor during the filming of the Academy Award-winning film "Born on the Fourth of July" He has also been featured in over 50 TV commercials promoting fitness, education, and wellness.
Saunders is also the author of five books, There's Always a Way, published in 1993, CENTAUR, the first comic book featuring a wheelchair hero, published in 1997, Mission Possible, published in 2003, Conversations in Health & Fitness, published in 2004, and Blueprint for Success, published in 2008.
Awards and recognition
Aside from his athletic victories, Saunders has received more than 100 commendations, proclamations, and awards for his work to improve health and fitness and education, including the Torch of Freedom Award Given to the Years Outstanding Sports Figure and the Distinguished Service Award presented by Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In 1993, Saunders was chosen as the outstanding Alumnus and given the award from Pratt Community College, Pratt, Kansas. In 1995, Saunders was recognized as Distinguished Alumnus from Kansas State University, College of Agriculture. Saunders has also been recognized among Kansas State's 30 most famous alumni.
In 2000, Kevin Saunders was nominated by Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, and received the Outstanding Alumni Award – from the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) in Washington, D.C. out of the 1,500 member community colleges across America.