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Rising Through Resilience: Terry Tucker of Motivational Check On The Five Things You Can Do To Become More Resilient During Turbulent Times

An Interview With Savio P. Clemente

As long as you don’t quit — you can never be defeated. Quitting is effortless. Any time we run up against the least amount of resistance, life makes it very easy to give up. But when we quit, we look to place blame on things external for our lack of success. We want to blame our parents or our teachers or our status in life. Most people never take responsibility for their own success or happiness. As I have mentioned, we are all going to experience pain in our lives. I experience it continually during my cancer treatments. Someday my pain will end. It may end through surgery. It may end through medication. It may end when I die. But if I quit, if I give up, if I give in to my pain, then pain will follow me for the rest of my life.

Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.

As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Terry Tucker.

Terry Tucker founded Motivational Check in 2019 to help people find and live their purpose. In 2020, he published Sustainable Excellence, Ten Principles to Leading Your Uncommon and Extraordinary Life as a way to provide concrete examples of how to live your remarkable life. Terry and his wife have lived all over the United States and currently reside in Colorado with their daughter and Wheaten Terrier, Maggie.

Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?

I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois and am the oldest of three boys. Athletics, specifically basketball, was an important part of my life, and I attended college at The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, on a basketball scholarship despite having three knee surgeries in high school.

When I graduated from college, I moved home to find a job. I was the first person in my family to graduate from college and was all set to make my mark on the world with my newly obtained Business Administration degree. Fortunately, I was able to find that first job in the marketing department at the corporate headquarters of Wendy’s International. But unfortunately, I ended up living with my parents for the next three and a half years as I helped my mother care for my grandmother and father who were both dying of different forms of cancer.

In my professional career I have been a: marketing executive, a hospital administrator, a customer service manager, a police officer, an undercover drug investigator, a SWAT Team Hostage Negotiator, a school security consultant, a high school basketball coach, a motivational speaker, an author and for the last nine years, a cancer warrior.

My wife and I have been married for 28 years, and our only child is a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy and is an officer in the newly created United States Space Force.

Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

When I was a girl’s high school basketball coach in Texas, I learned how fear can paralyze a person.

During a game, I pointed to one of the players on the bench to go into the game to give one of her teammates a rest. I then turned around and began observing the play on the court. After a minute or two, I looked over at the scorer’s table and realized the player I asked to go into the game had not checked in. I looked back down the bench at the player and pointed at her again and told her to go into the game. At which point she began to shake me off as a major league pitcher does to his catcher when he wants a new sign.

After some coaxing, I finally got her to come and stand next to me. I noticed that she had tears rolling down her cheeks. When I asked her why she didn’t want to go into the game, she told me she was afraid of making a mistake and having her friends in the stands laughing at her.

I responded by telling her that there were no “uniform wearers” on this team. I explained that I knew she was going to make a mistake or two but I wanted her to understand that all I asked was for her to give me her best effort. I went on to tell her that she worked hard in practice every day and that her teammates were relying on her to help out the team when she was needed.

I finally convinced her to go into the game by telling her that by being part of this team, she had an obligation to put the needs of the team above her fears, wants, and insecurities.

I had never experienced the need to counsel a player right in the middle of a game. But her fear of embarrassing herself in front of her friends almost superseded her commitment to our team.

Mark Twain once said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” This player eventually found the courage to overcome her fear and put the needs of the team above her needs. That is a powerful lesson for a young person to learn.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The acronym KISS (Keep It Short and Simple) fits what we do at Motivational Check. Motivational Check is nothing more than a blog I created in 2019 to put as much motivation, goodness, positivity, and love back into the world as possible.

We do this by putting up a “Thought for the Day” and following it up with a question for the reader to ponder. On Monday mornings, we put up the Monday Morning Motivational Message, which is usually a video or story that dives a little deeper into how people can be successful and significant in their world. We also post the messages on our social media sites.

I think this is a good example of a story about what we do at Motivational Check. I am still in treatment for the cancerous tumors that I have in my lungs. The clinical trial drug that I take really beats me up physically and mentally.

Recently, a young nurse who was caring for me shared this story. She told me that when she had met me almost a year ago, she was contemplating getting out of nursing. She explained that a good friend had died and she was in a very dark place. She even spoke with her parents and her plan was to quit nursing and go into a retail job. But after she had the opportunity to meet me, read my daily blog and watch what I experienced every day during this clinical trial treatment, she knew she had found her purpose and was where she was supposed to be.

If she had never shared that story, I would have never known how my life had made a positive impact on her. How many people out there are watching us from afar and want to emulate how we live our lives? We are all role models for so many people we don’t even know.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My parents are two people I am grateful for because they taught me the importance of family. I am the oldest of three boys. I am 6’8” tall and played college basketball. I have a brother who is 6’7” and was a pitcher on the University of Notre Dame baseball team, and my other brother is 6’6” and was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the National Basketball Association. Growing up, my parents were constantly doing the “Divide and Conquer” parenting technique when we all had games or practices at the same time in different locations.

When I graduated from college, I moved home to find a job. While I found my first job in the corporate headquarters of Wendy’s International, I ended up living with my parents for the next 3.5 years as I helped my mom care for my father and grandmother who were both dying of different forms of cancer.

My youngest brother was in high school when my father was diagnosed with cancer. One night after work, I told my father that I was going to go to the gym after work and wouldn’t be going to my brother’s basketball game. Even though I was an adult, my father reminded me of the importance of family and that I would be attending my brother’s game that evening.

While part of me wanted to put my foot down and go to the gym, I knew my father was right. Caring, supporting, and serving others are some of the most important traits our parents demonstrated every day.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?

I would define resilience as toughness; the ability to keep moving forward no matter how much mental, physical or emotional pain you are experiencing (with the understanding that while some people may be tougher than others, everyone has an ultimate breaking point).

There are several characteristics of resilient people, but I think the main one is grit, followed closely by optimism. You also need to accept your circumstances for what they are, with the understanding that you will do everything necessary to make the best out of those conditions. Patience is another characteristic that is important because dire circumstances will most likely not get better overnight. You have to understand you are in this for the long haul. How people manipulate pain and discomfort is another important characteristic. Most people want to run from pain, but resilient people use pain to make them stronger individuals. Faith is also an important characteristic of resilient people, faith in themselves but also faith in something that is bigger than them.

Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?

I would define courage as perseverance in the face of discomfort, while resilience is the ability to continue to move forward. Courage is one of the traits that you need to be a resilient person.

When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

Initially, I wanted to choose former Navy SEAL, David Goggins as the epitome of what resilience looks like.

But after thinking about it, I’d like to choose all the caregivers who take care of wounded warriors who experienced devastating injuries in the defense of our country, who deal with the emotional pain of caring for a dementia-riddled parent who raised them to adulthood, or the people who constantly deal with someone who has a terminal or chronic illness.

I chose this group because their life is totally focused on the care of another. They may not experience the physical pain of their friend or loved one, but they live every day with the emotional pain of: are they doing enough, where will the money come from to provide the additional care as the patient becomes sicker, and when will this torment end, all the while caring for themselves, and in many cases, their family.

These people are true heroes who selflessly give of themselves every day so another human being can have a better life. They don’t help some of the time, they assist all the time. They can be counted on to never let people down, to move forward even when they are sick or tired, to put the needs and desires of others before their own needs and desires.

Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?

Yes, and I was the person who was telling myself something couldn’t be done.

I attended The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina on a basketball scholarship, from 1978 until I graduated in 1982. However, because of my defeatist mindset, I almost didn’t graduate.

When I entered The Citadel in August 1978 it was an all-male military school. It was a college that was physically and mentally rigorous. Yelling and screaming, in addition to push-ups and running, were used to “cull the herd” and weed out the weak.

I was not mentally prepared for the demands of The Citadel and my surgically repaired right knee was giving me fits with all the running in street shoes. After several weeks of physical training, I was so in my head that I had decided to give up my full scholarship and quit. I had never quit anything in my life.

One the way to tell the basketball coaches I was quitting I decided to stop and see if I had received any mail. As luck would have it, I had a letter from my father. I took the letter and headed for the rafter seats in McAlister Field House, where the basketball coaches had their office.

Safely ensconced in a nose-bleed seat in the Field House, I tore open the hand-written letter and began to read. In seven pages, my father told me how proud he was of me for overcoming my three knee surgeries to receive a college scholarship, how much he loved me, and how fortunate I was to have the ability to go to college on a scholarship.

He then proceeded to explain how selfish I was being by not asking about how family and friends were doing when I called home, how much I was in my head (and how that wasn’t a good place to be), and how I should look at all the positive things that I had going on in my life instead of focusing on the negative.

By the end of the letter, I was in tears. But I was also faced with the first major adult decision of my life. A decision that would impact the rest of my life and one that nobody was going to make for me. Should I walk down to the Coaches Office and quit or should I refocus my mind on the positive aspects of life and find a way to move forward under these difficult and challenging circumstances?

As I wiped my eyes with the handkerchief that every cadet is required to carry in their back pocket, I decided not to quit. I decided to refocus my mind to finding a way to make it through this misery I was experiencing. And on a hot, humid morning in May 1982, I walked across the stage in front of Bond Hall and received my diploma.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

As I mentioned in an earlier answer, the greatest challenge of my life began in early 2012 when I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Acral Lentiginous Melanoma, which presented on the bottom of my foot. By the time the melanoma was detected, it had metastasized to a lymph node in my groin. Because my cancer is so rare, I was treated at the world-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center. I had two surgeries to remove the tumor and all the lymph nodes in my groin, and after I healed, I was put on a weekly injection of the drug, Interferon, to help keep the disease from coming back.

I took those weekly injections for almost five years before the Interferon became so toxic to my body that I ended up in the Intensive Care Unit with a fever of 108 degrees. Fortunately, expert medical care saved my life.

The Interferon gave me severe flu-like symptoms for two to three days after each injection. I lost fifty pounds during my therapy, was constantly nauseous, fatigued, and chilled, my ability to taste food significantly diminished, and my body constantly ached. This misery went on for over 1,660 days!

One thing I learned during all my pain and suffering is that you have two choices. You can succumb to the debilitating discomfort and misery, or you can learn to embrace it and use it to make you a stronger and better human being. I chose the latter.

There were times I felt so poorly and was in so much agony that I prayed to die. Each day was a struggle to use my mind to override my body’s apathy and distress.

I realize pain and discomfort can beat you to your knees and keep you there if you let it. But I also came to appreciate that I could use my hurting and anguish to make me stronger and more resilient.

I was no better at dealing with pain and discomfort than the next person. But every day, I found a way to survive, with the knowledge that I would need to do it again the following morning.

How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?

Most recently, my 9-year cancer journey has forced me to foster a resilient mindset.

But this didn’t start when I developed cancer in 2012. This started when I had my first knee surgery after my freshman year in high school.

Due to an infection that prevented scar tissue from growing in the area where my cartilage was removed, I required a second surgery. During the second operation, twenty-five pieces of my bone were removed. I was put in a cast from my hip to my ankle for an entire summer and told my basketball playing days were over. Up to this point in my short life, the only success I had known was on the basketball court and I refused to accept the doctor’s prediction that I would never play again.

When the cast was removed shortly before school started in August, I was faced with a thigh muscle that had atrophied from months of inactivity. After my doctor examined the wound, he proclaimed the surgery a success. He then handed me a paper with exercises described in words and drawings for my rehab at home. After that, he shook my hand, wished me luck, and turned to leave the exam room. As he was going, I began peppering him with all kinds of questions, “How many repetitions of each exercise should I do?”, “How often should I do these exercises?” “What happens if the knee swells again?”

His reply was intended to address my knee rehabilitation specifically but was profound in its far-reaching impact on my life. Unfortunately, it took until I was much older before I fully understood what he was trying to explain to me. His response was short and to the point. He told me to listen to my body for guidance regarding the number of repetitions I should perform and how often I should do each exercise. If there was no pain, he told me to exercise more frequently and perform additional repetitions. If the knee hurt or swelled when I trained, I should use less weight and do fewer repetitions. “Your body will tell you what to do,” he said, “Listen to it.”

So that’s what I did. I went home and began doing those exercises three times a day, every day. As my leg grew stronger, I increased the amount of weight I was using and the number of repetitions I was doing. Once I was able to build back my thigh muscle; eventually, I was able to start walking. Walking progressed to jogging, and jogging ultimately led to running.

But the one constant in all this was my mind. Every day I had to battle my mind for supremacy because my brain allowed doubt and fear to creep into my thoughts. It left me wondering if I would ever make it back on the basketball court. It filled me with uncertainty and insecurity. My mind knew my fears, it knew my vulnerabilities, and it knew my weaknesses.

By listening to my body, as my doctor had advised, and struggling to stay positive when my mind was putting that doubt and anxiety into my thoughts, I was eventually able to play basketball again. And despite a third, rather minor knee surgery, I received a scholarship to play NCAA Division I basketball at The Citadel, where I lettered all four years and was co-captain of the team my senior year.

Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are 5 steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.

Over my 9-year cancer journey, I’ve developed my 5 Truths of Resiliency. These Truths are secured in the bedrock of my soul and I use them to guide my life along with the 3 F’s — Faith, Family, and Friends. These truths allow my brain and body to absorb a tremendous amount of pain and discomfort and as such, make me a more resilient individual.

  1. Control your mind or it will control you. Our minds are hard-wired to avoid pain and discomfort and seek pleasure. To the mind, the status quo is comfortable and should be left alone. When I was in high school, I had three knee surgeries that almost ended my basketball career. When I went back to playing basketball, my mind began putting negative thoughts into my brain. Things like, “You know you are a step slower” and “Coaches aren’t going to recruit you because of your surgeries.” I realized in high school that I needed to change those negative thoughts into positive ones every time they entered my brain. Your brain can hold one thought at a time. Why would you want to make that a negative thought.
  2. Embrace the pain and discomfort we all experience in life and use it to make you a stronger and more determined individual. As I said earlier, pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. Instead of running from pain, what if we embraced it? What if we turned it inside and burned it as fuel or used it as energy to make us stronger, tougher, and more resilient? As an example, when I began the clinical drug trial of my current medication, I would spend 10–14 hours a day at the hospital having blood drawn to measure the amount of the medication in my body after different periods of time. There were days when I would get stuck with a needle 20 times. Instead of running from all that pain, I used each needle stick to make me stronger and looked forward to the next stick when I could become even more resilient. Use the pain in your life to make you a tougher individual.
  3. What you leave behind is what you weave in the hearts of other people. This is more of a legacy truth. How do you want to be remembered? What will people say about you at your funeral? We are not all born with the same gifts and talents but we all have the ability to become the best person we are capable of becoming. One thing I learned in team sports is the importance of being part of something bigger than yourself. On a team, if you fail to do your job, you don’t just let yourself down. You let your teammates down, your coaches down, your family down, your fans down. The clinical drug I am taking will most likely not save my life. But if the doctors can use the data from all my blood draws and scans to synthesize a new drug that can save the life of someone else five years from now, then my life will have even more meaning, even if I’m not around to appreciate it.
  4. As long as you don’t quit — you can never be defeated. Quitting is effortless. Any time we run up against the least amount of resistance, life makes it very easy to give up. But when we quit, we look to place blame on things external for our lack of success. We want to blame our parents or our teachers or our status in life. Most people never take responsibility for their own success or happiness. As I have mentioned, we are all going to experience pain in our lives. I experience it continually during my cancer treatments. Someday my pain will end. It may end through surgery. It may end through medication. It may end when I die. But if I quit, if I give up, if I give in to my pain, then pain will follow me for the rest of my life.
  5. The problem with most people is they think with their fears and insecurities. We don’t like to live in an uncomfortable state, but that is the only place where real growth can occur. The only way we can grow; the only way we can push past our comfort zones is to do what we find unpleasant and undesirable. It’s in those painful, challenging, and sometimes embarrassing moments that real progress can occur. And when improvement happens, that is when the common can become uncommon and the ordinary can become extraordinary. In 1976, the U.S. gold-medal-winning Olympic swimmer, Shirley Babashoff had a great quote, “Winners think about what they want to happen and losers think about what they don’t want to happen.” Winners can override their brains and focus on the things they want to occur. Losers focus on the negative aspects of competition and can’t see the value of focusing on a goal or a dream.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

The movement I would like to start is one where people realize that life is not fair, that the world owes you nothing, and that pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.

We are all going to experience pain along our journey, but suffering only happens when we don’t use that pain to make us a stronger and more determined individual. When we let the pain overwhelm us and feel sorry for ourself and want others to feel sorry for us, then we experience suffering.

Everything we need to be successful in life is already inside us. We just need to identify it, pull it out, and use it to make us a stronger and more determined individual.

We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them :-)

While there are so many people I’d like to learn from, there are two people whom I’d like to have a meal with, Pope Frances and Colin Powell.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

My blog, Motivational Check (motivationalcheck.com) is the easiest place to contact me. Every day I post a new Thought for the Day and on Mondays, I post the Monday Morning Motivational Message.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

About The Interviewer: Savio P. Clemente coaches cancer survivors to overcome the confusion and gain the clarity needed to get busy living in mind, body, and spirit. He inspires health and wellness seekers to find meaning in the “why” and to cultivate resilience in their mindset. Savio is a Board Certified wellness coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), stage 3 cancer survivor, podcaster, writer, and founder of The Human Resolve LLC.

Savio pens a weekly newsletter at thehumanresolve.com where he delves into secrets from living smarter to feeding your “three brains” — head 🧠, heart 💓, and gut 🤰 — in hopes of connecting the dots to those sticky parts in our nature that matter.

He has been featured on Fox News, and has collaborated with Authority Magazine, Thrive Global, Food Network, WW, and Bloomberg. His mission is to offer clients, listeners, and viewers alike tangible takeaways in living a truly healthy, wealthy, and wise lifestyle.

Savio lives in the suburbs of Westchester County, New York and continues to follow his boundless curiosity. He hopes to one day live out a childhood fantasy and explore outer space.

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Savio P. Clemente

Savio P. Clemente

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Board Certified Wellness Coach (NBC-HWC, ACC), #1 Best-selling Author, Syndicated Columnist, Podcaster, and Stage 3 Cancer Survivor