No Surrender: Jon Land and Patrick Bisher
Pretend you are in a dark place where there is no light, no shadows or any chance that you can see in front of you or in any direction. Pretend that your entire world is filled with this darkness and there is no way out. You feel despair, alone, and tortured by the memories that linger in your heart and mind and wonder whether you will ever see the sun rise, the beauty of the moon shining in the sky or will you leave yourself open to self=pity, recriminations, regrets and defeat? Adversity we all encounter it at one time in our lives but it is what we do to overcome adversity, toss aside those obstacles, breakdown the walls that confine us that will bring back the light, hope and lift the anguish and the pain. Patrick Bisher lived his life in the darkness for many years when he was told at the age of nine that he might never walk again. Flashing back in the prologue to September of 2011 he relates what happens when he was serving our country. A message from an Army Special Forces ODA team came just after his team had gotten back from a mission that lasted 18 hours. A huge enemy convoy was chasing this team and their evasive maneuvers were failing. The author describes the mission and the tragic ending in vivid details as he lost three of his closest friends that day and their names and their faces remain imprinted in his mind till this day. But, let’s flashback to the beginning and get to know Patrick as a child and understand where the darkness arrived and what he decided to do to fight for the sunlight and live his life his way with hope, fight and never as the title states: NO SURRENDER!
Told by a doctor that he would never walk again at the age of nine something within him snapped. His mother was working in the ER as a nurse in the same hospital and knew from a co=worker what the X=ray showed. Dr. Robert Hensinger was the doctor and his solution at the time was to strap leg braces to both of his legs and waist making them a part of him. Teaching him how to move, stand, sit up and rise took great fortitude and perseverance, keeping his feet apart and not falling equally as challenging. Using crutches came next and learning to use them was not easy but he from the start never gave in and practiced at home until he got it right. Accomplishments were his goals and being the best and proving that he was going to succeed his mainstay. How do you overcome adversity at nine? With painful blisters around his waist from the straps, learning this was normal, but not in his mind or his world. Going to school, ridiculed, poked fun at and insulted even called names, Patrick learned to ignore, rebuke and never give in to what criticism of others. An experimental procedure was offered and he would not refuse as this surgery was his only hope for normalcy but would it succeed? What happens when you spend most of your growing years in leg braces because you were born with a degenerative hip condition? But he had goals that he set for himself and each step of the way he managed to meet some, retract and create others and never ever conceded defeat. Like the branches of a new tree that are strengthened over time, so were Patrick’s legs as he created his own regimen to walk, run, play basketball and be his own person. Having an older brother named Cass was a blessing as he was his hero, mentor and champion. Being in a full body cast for a long time after his operation took quite a bit of help from his parents, their friends and his brother having to need assistance to do the simplest thing. But, when he describes how he managed to get to the bathroom alone with his full body cast, the reader is amazed, surprised and realizes that no matter what life throws at this boy at this young age, he would soar. He could not play in the playground in school. He had to focus on what he could do and that was English and History and then the cast comes off but will that be the magic solution to his problems or will there be more challenges that await him as the doctor tells him he will need to use crutches and put no weight on his leg or six months. Telling this to anyone that is 9 is like telling him was scary but realizing that he could not blame others for his problems and he would find a way to overcome them is an inspiration to everyone. But, there is much more and this was only the beginning.
Take the journey with Patrick as he relates his life as a young boy in 1992 when the author continues with his ordeal after the second operation and back on crutches. Every step of the way you know that the author is filled with strength, tenacity and refuses to give up knowing that someday he will be able to withstand what everyone thinks is impossible. At the end of each chapter he reflects on what he learned from every situation he encounters like pain lets you know that you are alive! Chapters 3 and 4 focus on how he begins to train himself, emulate his brother Cass who was looking after him at the age of ten and challenged him to race, run, bike and deal with a bully in grade 2. Competing in sports, realizing his brother was faster, bigger and yet never giving up on anything, relentless. The results might not have been what he wanted but throughout the memoir and his recounting his struggles you can feel his emotional changes, his shift for anger to rage at times as he and his brother try some stunts that would terrify others but would make him even stronger. I was always taught never to say I can’t or I won’t and when he states that Can’t is not in his vocabulary he deserved more than a high 5.
Chapter four focuses on a three-legged race that he wanted to run and his reasoning is priceless and although he is on crutches nothing stopped him and the final result you won’t believe. Even when called the Tin Man by others, ridiculed in school and at times having to take someone down, the author shows more than courage but at times he is blindsided by his own anger and frustrations.
Problems in high school, dealing with bullies, teachers and other setbacks led him to transfer to another school after having to come to terms with a new coach and convincing him that he could play any position. But, at times his arrogance, self=worth and over productive self-esteem got in the way of the game and what the coach was trying to impart on him. Being on the team was his goal but at times he and the coach clashed and the end result of one encounter would remain in his thoughts and mind forever as some lessons are never learned and realized until it’s too late. The darkness lifted at times and when the pain in his hip repeated itself hampering him from achieving his goals the anger within him surfaced but his determination and drive never waned. Here is voice as he tries to walk down the hallway and someone would intentionally bump into him and his leg would lock up or his back would fall with his books spilling out. Going to Dr. Hensinger was the same and the hospital was the best one but he still could not play sports and that was worse than any pain he had. The pain was a mainstay but his advice never faltered, which was to stop doing anything even remotely physical in nature and to the author it, was like telling him to stop breathing. But, he would not give up and not take a back seat and was determined to prove everyone one wrong. Cass, his brother was his primary inspiration but Patrick felt that playing basketball would be his salvation and give him some relief. Befriending someone in school and then learning about her violent death set him back as you will learn about Rasha and what happens when her own father takes her life and why on page 55. Once he again he reminds us in the What You Can Learn From this is that sometimes a fresh start is something that we need and most times, leaving your past to make a future is worth the pain of leaving the familiar.
The next several chapters focus on the words that haunt him that he said to Coach Ingles before the coach dies followed by the start of his life when he decides to become a Navy Seal and begins training as in the BUD/S. Basic Underwater Demolition Seal training and the basic conditioning boot camp experience enlisting in the Navy as a BUD/S candidate with a chip on his shoulder because of the crutches and leg graces that he was finally rid of and for all to reclaim his life. The author describes the rigorous training the fear and the fact that what happens when he is being trained the reaction of others when they learned about his disease. The BUD/S doctor knew his surgeon and his rode to success was beginning but the training as you read about it grueling. So, take this part of the journey along with Patrick, do the exercises, take on the underwater feats he had to perform, join him for the 8 weeks of Basic Conditioning that peaks with another grueling segment called “Hell Week” at the midway point and then see what happens when he and the others are tested to the ultimate limit. “ The fear of the unknown often causes people to fail before they even try,” the author states. The remaining chapters help readers understand as you take the journey with him joining the BUD/S and have some successes and several setbacks that sent him to the hospital getting more angry, geared up and hoping that he would finally succeed and finish the training. Iraq 2011 he was fit to serve and ended up in the same platoon with his old friend Gotez and from there he was sent to another school to help with his platoons needs as someone adept in languages and translations. His wife Nikki with a six-month-old child had to deal with his goal to be deployed and the length of it having to decide what she could and could not deal with as she and his family went home. The ending and what he finally accomplishes you have to learn for yourself as this is a story of courage, strength, persistence and one man who realized that giving up was not an option and soaring to success was.
“Being a navy Seal is not just a lifestyle, it’s also a metaphor for how we can live our lives, even absent of military service.” The author’s final words of encouragement, hope and what he hopes to impart to readers is highlighted in pages 186- 189. The epilogue with his final words which are powerful: I know that you can stand up, be strong, and stand firm against the tides of life when the waves crash down on you, by believing in yourself even when no one else does: YOU CAN. YOU WILL. REMEMBER: NO SURRENDER! Powerful, compelling and thought provoking!
FRAN LEWIS: JUST REVIEWS/MJ MAGAZINE