Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Profile highlight: Ken Behring and the Wheelchair Foundation
I had the good fortune of meeting Ken Behring once a few years ago. He was on a wheelchair donation program in Bali, and I happened to be there on assignment separately when I ran into him. I had no idea who he was, and probably it was good that way. I tend to be afraid of people with money or fame, tending to run in the opposite direction.
Behring was a kindly, elderly American gentleman I ran into while eating dinner at a local Balinese restaurant. We were being hosted by the same individual, and over dinner he told me that he was in town to "give away wheelchairs to a handicapped center in the area." Our conversations over the next day largely centered around the lessons he had learned in his life. It was only several days after our encounter that I realized how much wealth he really had, and I was moved by his story.
Behring's story is the classic American rags-to-riches tale. He grew up dirt poor in the mid-west, and worked his way up. With a high school diploma and a whole lot of motivation, he started a few companies, built a few cities, and owned the Seattle Seahawks, among other things. But it was during a chance trip to eastern Europe that he found his real purpose in life. He had agreed to drop off a shipment of wheelchairs on his private airplane enroute to a business destination. He was struck by the plight of the disabled in the developing world and promptly started the Wheelchair Foundation. The rest is history. When we met, he told me that he had entered the most important phase of his life...the earlier parts of his life when he had made his wealth were prologue to his "real life." He now works to build better quality wheelchairs, and to date has donated approximately 750,000 wheelchairs.
You can read more about Behring in his touching autobiography: Road to Purpose