Hysterical Strength Helps Man Lift Car off 6-Year-Old
A Kansas mother is praising a neighbor as Superman after her 6-year-old daughter told her he somehow found the strength to lift a car off her. The girl escaped with minor injuries after she and neighbor Nick Harris said she was pinned under the vehicle.
Nick Harris, 32 years old, said he was dropping his own daughter off at school when he saw a driver backing out of a driveway and hit 6-year-old Ashlyn Hough. "I didn't even think. I ran over there as fast as I could, grabbed the rear end of the car and lifted and pushed as hard as I could to get the tire off the child," he said.
There were no witnesses to confirm what happened. Ashlyn told the police what happened. Ottawa police Lt. Adam Weingartner said, "I don't have anything to dispute it."
The phenomenon is known as “hysterical strength”, although it is not recognized by medical science. This is largely because of the difficulty of gathering objective evidence that the incident occurred. Oftentimes, the situation occurs fast, without witnesses, and the event cannot be reproduced in a clinical setting. The theory that explains hysterical strength begins with adrenaline.
When we are faced with a sudden dangerous situation, the hypothalamus is stimulated, releasing a chemical to the adrenal glands. These glands release adrenaline (epinephrine) and noradrenaline (norepinephrine) which create the state of readiness that helps a human confront the danger. The heart rate rises, respiration increases, the pupils dilate, and the muscles receive an increased flow of blood and oxygen, causing them to contract. The skeletal muscles are also activated by electrical impulses from the nervous system and receive a sudden burst of glucose allowing the muscle to strengthen further.
While in the “heat of the moment”, we become stronger and more agile than in a normal state. The theory supposes that humans only use 33% of the muscle fibers available. The changes that occur during fear, called the “fight or flight” mechanism, remove the brains’ limitations of our own strength and allow us to perform under great stress. But the stressor is generally short-lived. The body begins to relax and return to a normal state (homeostasis) soon after the danger has passed.
Even if hysterical strength is an urban legend, Ashlyn will never forget her personal superhero. Nick Harris visited Ashlyn later that day, and was greeted with a big hug. “I don’t consider myself a hero at all,” said Harris. “To me, it was payment enough when she gave me that huge hug and said, ‘Thanks, Superman.”