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The Power of Persistence - Lessons from Cal Rodgers and the First Transcontinental Flight

On December 17, 1903 airplane flight became a reality thanks to the Wright Brothers. The flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina lasted less 12 seconds and covered 120 feet at an altitude of about ten feet. In less than a decade the record for distance would increase to 628 miles, the altitude record would soar from 50 feet to 26,739 feet and air speed would race from 40 miles to over 100 miles per hour. Flying captured the imagination of the public and flying exhibitions became the newest rage of the day.

Hundreds of thousands of people all over the country flocked to exhibitions where daring flyers braved their skills trying to outdo each other. Prize money attracted more and more flyers who performed increasingly riskier stunts. Records were broken on an almost weekly basis.

In 1910, William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper magnet, offered a $50,000 prize to anyone who could fly from coast to coast in 30 days or less. At that time, planes had a limited fuel capacity and were equipped with motors that had a propensity to fail at inopportune moments. No one believed that a plane could complete the trip in the required time.

Cal Rodgers, a Pittsburgh native who had learned to fly at the Wright Flying School in Dayton Ohio, decided to take on the challenge in his Wright Flyer, the Vin Fiz. The plane was named after a grape soda whose manufacturer sponsored Rodgers. On the first day of his flight, he crashed and had to rebuild almost the entire aircraft. Cal crashed sixteen times during his cross-country trip and had two engines explode. He had to stop and refuel many times, was grounded by weather and equipment problems for days at a time. Despite passing the deadline for the $50,000 prize he refused to quit. On the last leg of his journey from Pasadena to Long Beach, he broke his ankle and ribs, was severely burnt, and experienced a concussion when the Vin Fiz crashed trying to avoid power lines. Even with all of these setbacks, he pushed on until the wheels of the Vin Fiz touched the Pacific Ocean in Long Beach, California and he had completed the first cross-country trip in an airplane.

He had flown 4321 miles, in an airplane in 84 days. Cal Rodgers actual flying time was 82 hours and 4 minutes. He instantly became one of the most famous pilots of the era. It would be 1923 before the first nonstop flight across the United States was achieved.

Cal Rodgers personified the power of persistence. Nothing stopped him from reaching his goal of being the first person to fly across the United States. Every goal that is worthwhile has its challenges and obstacles.

Embrace these challenges in your own pursuit of goals. Overcoming obstacles and challenges make the victory sweeter. Two good strategies to help overcome obstacles that get in your way is to have a strong “Why” and to use “if/then” planning.

When you reach an impasse with your goal remember your “Why.” Remind yourself why the goal was important to you. If you are trying to lose weight, remind yourself how much better you will feel and how much healthier you will be at a lower bodyweight.

“If/then” planning is simply thinking of all the challenges that may come up in your pursuit of a goal and then having a plan for how you will handle that challenge. For example, “If I go to a party where there are lots of desserts, then I will pick one small dessert and have a glass of water while everyone is eating desserts.” “If/then” planning eliminates indecision. The fewer decisions you have to make when faced with an obstacle, the easier time you will have dealing with a problem.

The lesson from Cal Rodgers is to keep your eyes on the prize and not let anything stop you from achieving your goals. Figure out a way to overcome the obstacles in your path.

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