Ronan Tynan had a lot to tell family physicians about overcoming adversity during the Opening Ceremony of the AAFP's Scientific Assembly on Sept. 14. He knows the topic well. The famed Irish tenor -- who also is an author, physician and world-record setting athlete -- was born with phocomelia, which caused deformities in his legs and feet.
Tynan stood for the first time at age 3 with the help of prosthetics. He turned to prosthetics again at age 20 when an accident led to him losing both legs below the knee.
Despite those obstacles, Tynan has packed a lot of life into his 51 years.
"It comes down to two things really," he said during his keynote address to a packed audience at Chapin Theater, "the belief of others in me and continued encouragement and reinforcement of that belief. The belief, love and encouragement from my family and friends created positive attributes within me that couldn't be shaken."
Tynan, who specialized in orthopedic sports medicine in his practice, urged AAFP members to support the people in their lives.
"People who mentor become a battalion of inspiration," he said. "Mentoring does make a difference. It's a helping hand that shapes and influences our lives. Many of you today are sitting beside people whom you have mentored or who have mentored you. I say to you, 'Congratulations,' because this is a wonderful gift you have given to your fellow man or woman."
Tynan said the constant positive influence of his father led him to believe in himself. He said that people see in themselves what others see and it can become a "strength waiting to be harnessed."
Although he emphasized the influence of his family, Tynan said help also often comes from unexpected sources. After losing his legs below the knee, Tynan began training for the Paralympics. While throwing the discus one day in a park -- without much success -- Irish athlete Bernie Hartigan spotted Tynan and offered to help.
Tynan went on to win the gold medal in that event, setting records in the process. He finished his athletic career with 18 gold medals in the Paralympics, setting 14 world records.
"Don't be slow in giving or accepting encouragement," he said. "You have no idea the benefits it reaps."
At age 33, Tynan turned his interest to singing and won a BBC talent competition, which led to his spot in the group known as the Irish Tenors. Tynan, who now tours as a singer and motivational speaker, entertained the Opening Ceremony audience with renditions of "Man of la Mancha (I, Don Quixote)" and "God Bless America."
"When you're passionate about your job, it's no longer a job," he said. "It's just enjoyment. I hope you'll remember some part of my story when you have to throw the discus of life a little bit harder."