Lessons from “The Greatest Generation”

Tom Brokaw coined the phrase "the greatest generation" referring to the one born between 1914 and 1929. This was also one of the strongest generations.  The strength of body, mind, sprit and character exhibited in so many of our ancestors from this era is undeniable. Members of our gym have likely noticed the displays in our front lobby area commemorating some very important and inspirational people for Kati and I; our grandparents.  Without them, there would be no Breakthrough Strength & Fitness.  They exemplified much of what made the greatest generation so great.  We wanted to be able to feel their warm, confident and no-nonsense presence in our training facility in the hope that they might share some of their strength with all of us who strive to achieve ever better versions of ourselves.   

Our semi-private coaching studio prioritizes strength training for many good reasons.  After all is said and done, strength remains "the mother attribute" for us; the one which takes priority in the hierarchy of skills to practice.  We know that training strength is a key component to promoting our efforts in fat loss, achieving greater health and longevity, and even increasing the endurance of our intrepid Adventure Team; but it's much more than just that.  It has a higher purpose.  Strength is a gift we can share with others.  I prioritize strength training in all it's forms so that I have some to spare for those who might need it, whenever they need it, and so that I'm less likely to need to borrow some strength from someone else.  We are fortunate that our members share in this ideal. As an example, one of our amazing members, who works in healthcare, shared with me how they single-handedly lifted a fallen patient off the ground because there was simply nobody else available to help at the time.  This is a BIG reason why we train; to be able to share our strength in service of others and to support our families and communities.


Like many of their generation, our grandparents seemed to naturally feel obligated to be strong for others.  They possessed a keen desire to take responsibility, to answer a call to action, to give what they had without worrying about whether or not there might be anything left for themselves.  Kati’s grandfather, Robert Denbow, was a Marine Corps Sharp Shooter and participated in the Pacific Campaign with the First Division at Guadalcanal during the Second World War. Like many of his comrades, he didn’t talk about his experiences much, but the medals he earned speak for themselves.  He contributed to an action which is regarded as a turning-point in the war, and marked the Allied transition from defensive operations to holding the strategic initiative in the theater.  

When he returned home to Illinois he set to work on building a house to raise a family in.  A feat which my grandfather on my father’s side also accomplished.  It would seem that if you were born into the greatest generation and needed a house for your family, you could buy some land and just figure out how to build one.  Amazingly, both of hose residences remain standing to this day; a tribute to not only our ancestors' grit and determination, but also their craftsmanship!  These were some can-do, get-it-done, and "don’t just stand around congratulating yourself, let’s get on to the next thing” kind of people.


In 1941, my grandmother on my mother’s side, Grace Powell, joined the Royal Canadian Air Force and was posted to the Queen Victoria College Hospital, located 50km south of London.  This Air Force Hospital specialized in treating burns and performing plastic surgery on badly injured pilots and air crew members.  Grace was a food technician; responsible for ensuring that the wounded airmen's nutritional needs were properly met at the different stages of their recovery.  On an evening in 1943 in a pub in Harrowgate, Yorkshire, Grace was introduced to a young flight lieutenant who worked as a Wireless Operator/Gunner and Bombardier.  His name was Harvey Powell.  

My grandfather, Harvey Powell, had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force at the age of 19. He was posted overseas, completed his training in Bournemouth, England and joined a squadron with Bomber Command.  He then completed an astounding 57 operations, flying in Wellington and Halifax bombers with a crew of seven before being told to "Stand Down” in case he pushed his luck too far.  He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross; an honor awarded to Officers and Warrant Officers "for an act or acts of valour, courage or devotion to duty performed whilst flying in active operations against the enemy."  Harvey and Grace were two of the strongest people I've ever had the privilege to know. They were humble in their strength, but they shared it freely with those in need.


As we approach the 80th Anniversary of D-Day in just a few weeks, our thoughts stray back to a generation whose indomitable spirit had to endure so much.  The inspiration provided by these amazing people helps to remind us that strength has a higher purpose and is more than muscle.  Yes it’s fun to train, it’s great to look and feel good and to be able to accomplish big things in the gym, but as we become stronger we take on a new responsibility; to share our strength others.  We must be strong for those in moments when they can’t be, and to remain humble because there will likely be a day when we will need to lean on the strength of others as well.

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