Guts, Gumption and Grit: Dan Cummings On Winning

Photo courtesy of Dan Cummings

June 24, 2000 was the day the world changed. To most people, the day was like any other. Even to 19 year-old Dan Cummings who was taking advantage of the warm summer weather to head out on a boat with friends. What happened on that boat, or rather when he jumped off, would change the trajectory of his life. No, it would change the trajectory of the world forever.

When Dan dived off that boat on June 24th, he hit his head, broke his spine and was paralyzed from the neck down. Spinal cord injury victims, some would argue would lose not just the use of their arms and/or legs and they lose their freedom. For one quadriplegic, Dan Cummings, none of this was an option he was willing to accept. None of it.

Who would of thought that Dan Cummings would walk someday? That he would teach others to do the same? Who would of thought that Dan Cummings would turn his tenacity, or as some would say stubbornness, into a business, perhaps becoming one of the greatest entrepreneurs of all time, selling something that other entrepreneurs can't buy on the open market. Dan Cummings sells freedom to those who are prisoners of their own bodies.

I'm about to introduce you to the most amazing entrepreneur you've ever met. He will forever change your perception of what is possible. He will make you realize that you are so far away from reaching your own potential that you will begin immediately to reformulate your own personal plan for greatness. The universe is about to shift. Are you ready?

Meet Dan Cummings. 33 years old. Rejector of the word no. Destroyer of limiting beliefs. Explorer of new possibilities. Entrepreneur extraordinaire.

I met Dan at his business, Journey Forward in Canton, Massachusetts. His business launched in 2008 to teach others with spinal cord injuries how to get their freedom back. Most clients come in on wheels, and after years of arduous work, walk out on their own two feet. When I met Dan Cummings, he was fact walking, with the aid of a walker, to meet me at the front lobby. This one time quadriplegic shook my hand. Is he a walking miracle? If so, he's bottled the formula for creating many more of them. Most that come to Journey Forward to have suffered from spinal cord injuries, but some suffer from other afflictions, like stroke or diseases that affect the nerves and interrupt limb movement. All of his customers are seeking freedom. Many plan to walk. Others just want the ability to be independent again -- to tie their shoes, get dressed and get out bed alone.

I met up with Dan Cummings to pick his brain about business and life. He offers a unique view on building empires, breaking rules, and being stubborn. Here are 5 lessons on winning in business and life from the extraordinary Dan Cummings:

No - When someone tells you that what you are about to do is impossible, smile, be courteous and ignore them. Absolutely nobody could possibly know what you are capable of so do not buy into someone else's limiting beliefs of your capabilities, ever. It will kill you. After Dan's accident in 2000, every doctor and caregiver told him he would never walk again. His insurance paid for physical therapy for one hour, three times a week and Dan said it was a joke. The workouts didn't make him tired and they didn't push him at all. He built his own exercise regimen at home all while digging into research about spinal cord injuries. He heard there was a place in California, 3000 miles away that could help him learn to walk again. He visited their facility and came back home to teach himself how to live on his own, so that he could move to California to begin his own journey to walk again. It took him an entire year to learn how to tie his shoes in less than an hour, button his clothing, and live without assistance. Against his family's advice, Dan then moved to California for four years. He said, "When I went into that facility for the first time after moving out there, I knew two things (1) He would someday walk out on his own two feet, and (2) He would create a facility like it back home to teach other spinal cord injury victims that living with the status quo is not the only option.

Understand Your Value Proposition - Journey Forward has now been in business for six years. Cummings notes that in his first couple of years in business it would drive him crazy when his customers would spend so much time during their workout regimen chatting away with the employees. Cummings would remind each client of the importance of concentrating every part of their being on the workout so as to maximize the possibility that the damaged nerves would start responding to the treatments. However, over time, he realized that giving his customers their freedom back was not his only value proposition. Journey Forward was also providing clients with a community where they could come in and socialize. "Some of the people we work with don't get out of the house other than to come here for their treatments. Therefore, to deny them the ability to socialize with others during this time is almost as bad as denying them hope, which is the reason many arrive here in the first place."

Teach Your Clients How to Pay You - Cummings notes that the only way to stay in business is to collect revenue. None of the treatments offered by Journey Forward are currently paid by insurance. This means that the clients have to find a way to pay on their own. Journey Forward helps by showing clients how to fundraise. In fact, Dan is often the keynote speaker at many of the fundraising events for his clients. That way the supporters of that patient understand what Journey Forward means to them. In addition to showing clients how to fundraise, Dan does plenty of that himself, personally hosting events throughout the year, like a Casino Night, a walk, golf tournaments and the like. He says that the only way they've been able to keep the doors open is by spreading the message about what Journey Forward offers. The equipment is extremely expensive, like the Therastride, a treadmill-like machine with a harness to hold the client up, which costs $86,000. Some of Dan's personal fundraising also goes towards scholarships for clients. In January, five customers were awarded $10,400 scholarships each which gives them each one two hour workout at Journey Forward each week for 52 weeks.

Disguised Blessings - I asked Dan if his spinal cord injury is a curse or a blessing. "If I could go back and change things, I wouldn't. This injury is by far one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I have an awesome life. God dealt me a hand, and I'm dealing with it. I believe everything happens for a reason and I was born to show others that absolutely anything is possible." Dan says that the secret of a great life is believing in yourself, never giving up, and dealing with what you've got rather than lamenting about what you don't.

Family - If you want a great life, says Dan, surround yourself with family. Your family is your core. Dan says that when he was growing up everything in life was about his friends. Dan's father passed away when he was a toddler. However, he grew up with six brothers and sisters, all of them 8 to 17 years older than him. Dan acknowledges that he would not be where he is today without the ongoing support of his family. They are the ones that he can count on for anything. They are at every fundraiser. They are his biggest cheerleaders. They are the ones that tell him he can do it when everyone else in the world says he can't.

What's next for Dan Cummings? He plans on opening several more Journey Forward treatment centers in the coming years. As well, he's working with the Neurological Recovery Network to provide data that will hopefully change the way medical institutions treat spinal cord injuries while at the same time providing better information to insurance networks so that they will someday cover treatments. Cumming's goal is to prove that the treatment provided by Journey Forward is far less expensive than traditional treatment. Journey Forward clients rarely land in the hospital over pressure soars, urinary tract infections, or a whole host of other complications typically caused by immobility.

I can't say for sure where Dan will be tomorrow, next year, or even a decade from now. But, I do know that he'll always be stepping forward.

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