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Biography & Autobiography Personal Memoirs

The Man Who Learned to Walk Three Times

A Memoir

by (author) Peter Kavanagh

Knopf Canada
Initial publish date
Apr 2015
Personal Memoirs, Health Care Issues, Nervous System
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2015
    List Price

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From the well-known CBC journalist comes a story of hardship, resilience and repeatedly learning the same lesson.
Peter Kavanagh was just an infant when he was diagnosed with paralytic polio and suffered permanent paralysis in the lower part of his left leg. As a child, Kavanagh endured painful medical procedures to even out the length of his legs, and experimental exercise techniques. He spent his youth in a leg brace and special footwear, isolating for a boy whose classmates ran freely in sneakers. His first lesson in walking was how to move while wearing such equipment. Throughout his life, as he developed a very successful career in public broadcasting, built a family, and indulged in his love of music and travel, Kavanagh underwent various surgeries and rehabilitation to give him "normal" mobility.
The Man Who Learned to Walk Three Times is a moving memoir of a full life, and of learning the same lesson over and over. Like Oliver Sacks's books and Marni Jackson's classic Pain: The Fifth Vital Sign, it combines medical history with a very personal case study. It documents coping with one's pain, guilt and shame, and the anger that arises from being bullied. But this book is also a story of healing and rehabilitation, and of hard lessons, hard earned--about the courage to keep going and, if one way isn't working, the awareness and bravery to try something new. Over time, these decisions and lessons help form a sense of identity; as Kavanagh says, "Walking is the key to who I am."

About the author

Peter Kavanagh has worked as a journalist in television, radio and print for over 25 years. At CBC Radio he works with the Sunday Edition and Ideas. He frequently speaks at conferences on the media's role in society. His work appears in The Tablet, The Catholic Register and various secular media outlets.

Peter Kavanagh's profile page

Editorial Reviews

“Peter Kavanagh’s ordeal is a story about endurance and perseverance—how a devastating disability became the motivation for growth—spiritual, intellectual and even physical. And how the victim of a terrible disease is able to avoid the debilitating handicap of victimhood through raw determination and enduring hopefulness.” —Linden MacIntyre, author of Punishment

“If you totted up the pain, the surgeries, the dashed hopes and unexpected setbacks Peter Kavanagh details in this wonderfully readable memoir, you might brace yourself for a depressing experience. Quite the contrary: Kavanagh’s buoyant, curious spirit is an inspiration. Filled with fascinating medical and social history, this is a deft portrait of a man who never stopped learning about himself and what it takes to walk well.” —Katherine Ashenburg, author of The Dirt on Clean
“Most people never remember how they first learned to walk. But Peter Kavanagh, who learned and kept learning, remembers everything. In this honest and original memoir, Kavanagh provides a heartfelt reminder that it’s the journey, not the destination, that offers life’s best lessons. His is a remarkable story, rich with insights about history, medicine, and the endurance of the human spirit.” —Carolyn Abraham, author of The Juggler’s Children

“Kavanagh knows how to write both evocatively and concisely. . . . [H]e luminously creates the town of Deep River and the personalities of his parents. . . . He knows exactly how to identify and encapsulate the information that a common reader wants and needs to know, in a straightforward language and using imagery that makes sense rather than impresses with creativity.” —James Roots, The Literary Review of Canada

“[A] remarkable memoir.” —Jamie Portman, The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon)

The Man Who Learned to Walk Three Times is a well-written look at how walking is not something we’re born knowing how to do. Instead, Kavanagh notes it’s something precious and important, and the freedom it gives should be valued and appreciated throughout our lives.” —Julie Kentner, Winnipeg Free Press

“In his memoir, The Man Who Learned to Walk Three Times, the former CBC producer recounts, with grace, precision and a strong dose of candour, his life-long struggle to put one foot in front of another.” —Zsuzsi Gartner, The Globe and Mail

“It offers insights into the world of the chronically ill child, the ways we learn and lose and relearn skills, and the ramifications of being considered ‘imperfect.’. . . For a private, intellectual man who has spent long stretches of time isolated in lonely hospital rooms, this married father of a grown daughter has opened himself up here in ways that you suspect don’t come easily, which makes his thoughtful observations seem all the more valuable. In The Man Who Learned to Walk Three Times, it’s clear Kavanagh has learned much more than how to walk.” —Marcia Kaye, Toronto Star

“Kavanagh’s unmaudlin, matter-of-fact account keeps us interested in his battle of wills with his malady from beginning to (hopeful) end.” —John Arkelian,

“In The Man Who Learned to Walk Three Times, Peter Kavanagh doesn’t just tell us his own fascinating story: He makes the rest of us appreciate the magic of that thing we do unthinkingly with our own two legs.” —Jonathan Kay, Editor-in-Chief of The Walrus

“Although Kavanagh’s story is shaped by physical challenges, his book is not a medical case study. His story is one of hardship, resilience, and hope.” —Jacqueline Cormier, Connections (St. Thomas University)

[An] inspirational tale.” —Penny Coles, Niagara Advance

“Kavanagh’s unmaudlin, matter-of-fact account keeps us interested in the battle of will he wages against his malady from beginning to end.” —John Arkelian, The Catholic Register

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