In 1965, Dick Traum was pinned and crushed by a car, resulting in life-threatening injuries and the amputation of his right leg. Ten years later, he triumphantly crossed the finish line of the New York City Marathon. In 2012, Army Ranger Cedric King lost both legs when an IED explosion ripped through his body in Afghanistan. Yet only three years later, he completed the Boston Marathon on hi-tech prosthetic blades. Are these triumphs of modern medicine? Of technology? Amazingly, these are people-powered victories made possible by micro communities, the inspiring subject of the new book The Courage to Go Forward: The Power of Micro Communities, by David Cordani and Dick Traum.
Micro communities, small, tightly knit groups of like-minded people, empower individuals to achieve the unimaginable, tout Cordani and Traum. Despite the authors’ differing personal and professional backgrounds these two leaders are intimately familiar with the transformative powers of small groups, .
David Cordani, president and CEO of the healthcare giant Cigna, opens the book with a get-to-know-you story from his youth. As a scrappy teen growing up in Connecticut, Cordani used athletics as a training ground to scratch and claw his way toward his goals.
As an adult, one of these goals was the Hawaiian Ironman World Championship, in which athletes swim 2.4 miles, bike an extensive 112-mile course, and then finish it off by running a 26.2-mile marathon. “In a moment of what others may have seen as self-delusion,” Cordani recounts, “I said, ‘I want to do that someday.’”
And he did. But it wasn’t a result of his grit or perseverance, though these attributes certainly played a role. He was victorious because he learned to rely on the support and knowledge of his fellow triathletes. As Cordani describes, “I was surrounded by a supportive community of like-minded people who strengthened my resolve. Failure under those circumstances would never be an option.”
Dick Traum, president and founder of the athletic nonprofit Achilles International, shares a similar story of micro communities’ power. After a traumatic car crash and intensive rehabilitation, finishing the New York City Marathon energized Traum so much that he was compelled to share the “rush of empowerment” with others.
As Traum writes, “I loved it! It energized me beyond words and caused me to start thinking ahead to my next accomplishments even before the applause died down. This is spirit. This is the reinforcement that encourages achievement.” Traum founded a running club for New Yorkers with disabilities, which subsequently inspired so many athletes that Achilles has more than 110 chapters in 41 countries today.
The Courage to Go Forward is two books in one: a side-by-side account of how these two successful leaders brought their organizations together to do incredible amounts of good. Their personal stories are punctuated by what Cordani and Traum have termed “Profiles in Courage”, ten inspiring (and moving) stories of everyday people achieving what at first glance seems impossible.
Readers meet remarkable Achilles athletes including Cedric King, the Army Ranger whose marathon success helped him regain his identity after losing his legs in Afghanistan. Trisha Meili, known as “the Central Park Jogger,” who overcame a traumatic brain injury, completed marathons, and establish the Hope and Possibility® Race, which today attracts over 6,000 runners.
Then there’s Tom Davis, who channeled the loss of his lower left leg, after a roadside attack in Iraq, into winning four hand-cycling marathon titles and Zoe Koplowitz, whose marathon finishes were a way to reclaim what she had lost to her battle with multiple sclerosis. The enthusiasm in their stories is infectious, leaving readers to ask, “What can I conquer today? And what can I accomplish after that?”
Though The Courage to Go Forward focuses on athletic achievement Cordani and Traum outline the many ways in which micro communities fill gaps our societal systems cannot, or will not, on their own. For example, when Hurricane Harvey tore through Houston, Texas, in 2017, mobilized groups of people from across the county banded together to offer rescue and relief. As Cordani and Traum explain, “They were the embodiment of a situational micro community—humanity borne out of a crisis—giving of themselves in a momentary point in time.”
Micro communities can also be utilized to address exceedingly complex needs, such as the country’s current opioid epidemic. “To create the right strategy,” Cordani explains, “we convened a micro community of stakeholders—patients, physicians and other healthcare providers, pharmaceutical manufacturers and distributors, payers, pharmacists, and governments—to determine where we were uniquely qualified to infuse ‘greater good’ and act to reduce opioid use.” This group of experts is, by its purest definition, an influential micro community.
Cordani and Traum offer a six-step recipe readers can follow to create their own small, bonded groups, as well as guidance on how corporate and nonprofit partners can enact change, together, as Cigna and Achilles International have.
With book praise from recognizable names including Magic Johnson, Jeb Bush, and the corporate leaders of Johnson & Johnson, FedEx Corporation, and the NFL, it’s clear that the small and mighty micro community crosses boundaries and brings people together in unexpectedly positive ways. The Courage to Go Forward will inspire you to pursue—and conquer—your own version of the impossible.
All proceeds from The Courage to Go Forward support the programs and athletes of Achilles International. To learn more, visit the authors’ website.