You hear the stories about the mother who lifts a car off her child, or the father who does the same. They focus on human strength in stressful circumstances. Are these stories urban legends or fact? Are there scientific or medical data to support what is referred to as “hysterical strength” or displays of extreme power, beyond what is deemed normal or appropriate? The term is not readily recognized in medical academia because the theory has little anecdotal evidence to support it. “Excited delirium” is another way some medical professionals describe the symptoms of superhuman strength.

Superman, or the Man of Steel, can fly and is “more powerful than a locomotive,” able to lift objects several hundred times his own weight. Though we haven’t heard of any humans who can actually fly like Superman, or have his capabilities of strength or x-ray vision, the human body is capable of some extraordinary feats. What causes these bursts of superhuman powers? Are they driven by adrenaline, or fear, or both? And what of these stories that are told? We found some great ones online.

Let’s start with Michael Archuletta, who KOAT TV interviewed and reported on when he saved a 3-year-old child who was pinned under a car. The car reportedly slid backward and rolled over the boy. Archuletta raised the car 10 inches off the ground and neighbors were able to retrieve the child. The little boy sustained minimal injuries.

In 1982 in Georgia, a man named Tony Cavallo was working on his car, a 1964 Chevy Impala, when the jack collapsed and he was stuck underneath. Cavallo’s mother, Angela, reportedly lifted the car high enough for neighbors to replace the jack and pull Tony from the car. 

Another intriguing story is the woman who in Quebec in 2008 faced down a polar bear to save her children. Lydia Angivou, who was 41 years old, was attacked by the bear when she was outdoors with her 7-year-old son and 2 of his friends. The mother reacted by fighting off the bear, and stated that all she could think of was that her boy was going to be killed. Help eventually came and the bear retreated. The children were unharmed.

Nick Harris of Kansas was hailed by a mother as Superman after he found the strength to lift a car off of her 6-year-old daughter. In 2009, Harris was dropping off his 8-year-old child at school when he witnessed a car back over the other child. Harris simply reacted, and rushed to the child’s aide, lifting the car off of her. Later, Harris tried to lift other cars and couldn’t. He stated that “…somehow, adrenaline, hand of God, whatever you want to call it, I don’t know how I did it.”

What do you think makes these superhuman rescues possible? Do all humans possess the capability to unleash super strength? Could it be possible that through a visual stimulation of the hypothalamus, a signal is sent to the adrenal glands releasing epinephrine and norepinephrine, which put the body in a heightened reactive state, where muscles contract, blood flow is optimal, and we are able to function at superior levels? When confronted with danger, can we really be superhuman?