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Some of us have had near death experiences… and then there are these people. Faced with impossible odds and a near certainty of death, they were able to postpone their moment of reckoning for another day. We find ourselves in awe of such people because they stood at the edge of oblivion, tempted fate, and returned to tell their tales. As empathetic beings, we cannot help but imagine ourselves in a similar situation… how would we respond? It is impossible to know how one will react in a life or death situation until that moment arrives. When it does, the outcome hinges on a combination of prior experience, instinct, and luck. An experienced mountaineer has a much better chance of surviving a climbing disaster than your average Wal-Mart cashier, but nothing is guaranteed. If a rock gives way, it doesnt matter how many years of experience you have. Over centuries past, humans have developed survival instincts that are rarely necessary in modern society. The same adrenaline that fuels football stars once served a much more vital purpose in escaping larger, faster predators. Humans are wired to survive, and despite minimizing required physical effort through technological advancement, those intrinsic survival abilities have not yet been lost. The greatest survival tool we have is not physical at all; it is the logic and reason of the human brain. Of course, we must sometimes attribute survival stories to luck, but that just makes it all the more mysterious and compelling. Other times, humans display a truly remarkable ability to persevere in the most trying circumstances imaginable.

1. John McCain

Most people know that John McCain spent time as a prisoner of war, but few know the depth of hardship he endured. When his plane was hit by a missile over Hanoi, North Vietnam, he was forced to eject over swampland. During the ejection, he fractured both arms and a leg nearly drowning in the waters below. He was soon taken prisoner by the North Vietnamese, where he was interrogated and tortured for information while his injuries went untreated.

When offered preferential treatment due to his fathers high standing in the U.S. Army, the younger McCain refused unless all prisoners received the same treatment. He was then subjected to severe torture methods which included being beaten every two hours for weeks until he signed an anti-American propaganda confession.

As years passed, McCain continued to receive beatings on a weekly basis, as he refused to participate in further propaganda supporting North Vietnam. After nearly five and a half years as a prisoner of war, McCain was released. To this day, he is unable to raise his arms above his head due to injuries received while imprisoned.

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