Franklin Roosevelt was stricken with polio when he was in his late 30’s.

He lost the use of his legs overnight, never to regain it.

Many people would have resigned themselves to a life of disability. Roosevelt would not. He spent the following years working to strengthen his upper body and figuring out how to adapt to the world. Within seven years, he was elected governor of New York, and within 11 years, he was President of the United States, facing some of our nation’s greatest challenges.

Historians have analyzed those years of illness and rehabilitation. Some say the things he learned then contributed to his effectiveness as a leader.

Here are some of the lessons:

  • There is a difference between being lame and crippled. He resolved to overcome his condition with hard work and creative solutions. He was able to lead, with most people being unaware of his limitations.
  • It gave him the gift of empathy. Roosevelt was an elite, blue-blood American when his illness struck. His illness gave him a new awareness of those in need.
  • It taught him that relying on easy gifts was a weak strategy. Things had come easily to Roosevelt. He was born into privilege. His name opened up things for him. The polio made him see that natural, easy gifts could evaporate quickly.
  • He saw you have to work diligently to overcome more demanding situations. The personal hardship of his lengthy recovery from illness prepared him with the proper perspective for the protracted recovery from the Depression, as well as the conduct of World War II.

You never know how your experiences, challenges, illnesses, or successes prepare you for what may lie ahead. It turns out that what Roosevelt learned from polio helped save a nation.