I would never walk again.
Though everyone told me to be positive, the cold facts were painful. The news from my doctor was a harsh reality that tore me up inside, leaving me hollow, my mind spinning and my eyes seeing nothing but a vacant future.
Inspired to serve my nation by the tragedy of the September 11 attacks, I proudly served with the United States Marine Corps, returning from my overseas tour healthy and able bodied. With my fiancée Shenette, a Corps gunnery sergeant, my future in 2005 seemed bright -- that is, until the dark day I suffered a severe spinal cord injury that took away my legs and left me learning to live again.
For most people, the road to recovery starts when they enter a rehabilitation hospital. For me, my recovery process started in March 2007, when I left my final rehabilitation hospital and joined a team called World T.E.A.M. Sports. That's when I accepted the challenge of riding the Face of America Ride -- my very first ride -- a ride that changed my life!
Competitive by nature, the idea of riding 110 miles from Gettysburg to our nation's capitol using a handcycle appealed to me. It was a challenge I needed to undertake. I'd always been athletic, having participated in sports in school. But a handcycle was something different -- a challenge that encouraged me to excel.
So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then when we summon the will, they become inevitable. With support from my family, I began to train and learn how to channel my energy into my arms and hands.
Completing the April 2007 Face of America, I joined Team Semper Fi, a sports program funded by the Injured Marine Semper Fi Fund. The Team was founded by other wounded Marines and sailors who refused to let their challenges prevent them from competing in athletics. Together, their athletic drive and unwavering spirit on their road to recovery is an inspiration to all they meet.
With Team Semper Fi, I participated in several events nationally, including a marathon in Virginia Beach, triathlons in San Francisco and Washington, and became active in wheelchair basketball, competing in conference tournaments and championships.
Growing up in Pittsburgh, I enjoyed snow and ice, so skiing appealed to me. I began participating in biathlon and cross-country skiing in mid-season 2010, and was surprised I could compete at the highest level. It's not that sit skiing is easy, but its difficultly encouraged my competitive nature. I find it to be one of the hardest sports I have ever done, both able-bodied as well as adaptive.
I went to two World Cup events trying to make the Paralympic Team to compete in the Vancouver Paralympic Games. Despite my best efforts, I missed making the team by a very slim margin. To my surprise, the US Olympic/Paralympic Committee, along with US Biathlon, invited me come to Vancouver as part of an Ambassador/Alternate program. Their intent was to get me addicted to Biathlon. It worked. I decided to take Biathlon very serious and train hard. With summer arriving, I accepted an invitation to participate in World T.E.A.M. Sports' 2010 Sea to Shining Sea Cross-Country Ride and use it as my cardio base. During the 3,800 mile ride from San Francisco to Virginia Beach, I rode about 1,000 miles on my Sit-Ski, and that made a difference.
After the ride, I continued to train. It's hard to gauge how well you are doing until you compete, so after a few races, I saw how my training paid off. In the January national championships in Maine, I came in third. Plus, I am top-ranked in my division. At the next Paralympics in Sochi, Russia in 2014, I'm convinced our American team will be a threat to the Russians on their home turf. Looking back to the harsh reality of five years ago knowing I would never walk again, I am extremely humble and grateful the Lord put World T.E.A.M. Sports in my life to give me challenges that would alter my quality of life in the most positive way. Others should be inspired to participate in this April's Face of America Ride with disabled and non-disabled participants, including Marines, soldiers and sailors beginning their own road to recovery. If you're not a rider, sponsor a competing athlete or donate your used cell phones and other equipment to support the ride. As World T.E.A.M. Sports says, the exceptional athlete matters, and you can be exceptional.
World T.E.A.M. Sports is coordinating the Face of America Ride April 15-17, from Washington DC to Gettysburg. This inclusive 110-mile non-competitive bicycle ride includes disabled and non-disabled military active duty and veterans, along with the general public. For more information, visit the Face of America website. World T.E.A.M. Sports is teaming up with the nonprofit UpCycle4Hope to support the 2011 Face of America ride with UpCycle4Hope. This nonprofit is collecting used electronics devices including unused cell phones, video games, digital cameras, notebook computers and other devices for upcycling. Contact UpCycle4Hope by telephone at 941-225-8372 or explore online for further information regarding this innovative program that turns unwanted and obsolete devices into funding for World T.E.A.M. Sports and its many programs.