I tend to be a pretty highly-motivated person, but there are times when I feel sorry for myself because I can’t do everything I could when I was 23 or because I have an ache here or a pain there.
When I get these feelings, I think about our wounded men and women coming back from wars over the past 15 years; many of them are missing limbs, or have brain damage, or emotional and spiritual damage, or a combination of all those.
One day recently, after undergoing major cardiac surgery, I was lamenting to myself how I was going to be very limited in what I could do for the next few months. I started feeling sorry for myself, chanting “woe is me” type messages in my mind.
Then I read a story about a young Marine, a corporal who had barely been in the Corps two years. I won’t use his real name because I haven’t asked permission, but he is a Georgia native and a third-generation Marine when he joined right after high school. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 with his unit, B Company, 1st Reconnaissance Battalion; a highly-trained reconnaissance specialist ready to fulfill his obligation he swore to uphold.
Five months into his deployment, while on patrol in Sangin, Helmand Province, he stepped on an improvised explosive device, a.k.a. roadside bomb; it exploded and in the blink of an eye this virile young man, in the prime of his physical prowess, lost both legs from the hips down and part of his left arm. This is not to mention the potential for Traumatic Brain Injury, or TBI, which is common with bomb blast victims; problem is, those and other physical issues may not present themselves until months or years after the incident.
Now, you would think if anybody has a right to feel sorry for themselves and sing the blues, it would be this corporal. Not so. Instead, he chose to turn his tragedy into inspiration. Despite his extensive injuries and a very long road to recovery, he has never let anything hold him back from giving and getting 110-percent out of life.
Exactly what does 110-percent look like?
Well, on his Facebook page and in a separate article about him that I read, there are photos of him surfing--on his good arm and the prosthetic arm; of him skydiving, kayaking and downhill skiing; him wrestling an alligator, shooting, balancing his entire body on a dumbbell using one hand and the prosthetic; competing with Marine buddies in muddy Spartan races where, among other feats, he climbs 20-foot barriers and finishes with his team.
Perhaps the most courageous thing about him is his sense of humor; keeping your sense of humor is easy when things are going well, but when faced with his circumstances--well, I can’t say what I’d do but I know it would be difficult.
However, you see it come out on his Facebook page, where he begins his bio saying, “Short description of myself … Why does it gotta be short? What are you trying to say?” In one photo, he is smiling as he looks out the window of a shopping cart kiddie car he is in, being pushed by an attractive girl.
He could also brag and take all the credit for his attitude and recovery, but he gives credit to the Marines in his platoon who pulled him to safety, to the helicopter pilots who risked their lives to get him out of the battle zone, to the doctors and nurses with the skills and caring attitude who were able to save him.
“To say it is my story I’m sharing would be bold of me,” he writes. “I must say that my success is a direct reflection of the awesome people I’ve been surrounded by in my life.”
Success; he uses the term success to describe his battle back from certain death, from dismemberment, from what could have been a disheartening life. His success and the odds and obstacles he had to overcome to beat them outshine anything I’ve ever done in my life.
So as I read his story, suddenly my woes seemed trivial; my aches and pains insignificant; the obstacles I had to overcome inconsequential. I have very real physical complications generated by my military service, but compared to this young Marine, and many others like him, they are manageable.
His attitude has even inspired his own meme. The photo shows him in a camouflaged uniform muddy from head to hips, propelling himself along with his arms amidst the legs of his fellow Marines in the Spartan Races. The wording below the picture reads: “Your Excuse Is Invalid.”
For me, that said it all and that picture and those words will stay with me forever more. What possible excuse could anyone ever come up with that would be greater than what he had to overcome?
As I write this, it is Veteran's Day 2015, a day to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good. This will be published two days after Veteran's Day, but rest assured it’s never too late to thank a veteran. There are veterans among us all; some with visible injuries, some with hidden injuries.
I hope this story will provide some level of motivation, not only to seek out veterans wherever they are, but also to not make excuses for complications in your life. Virtually anything can be overcome; if you don’t believe it, Google “Marine loses both legs, left arm” and you should be able to find the information I am citing.
“I’ve been carried since my injuries both literally and metaphorically many, many times,” he writes on his Facebook site. “I want to encourage others to uplift those around them. I might not be able to carry anybody physically but I want to return the favor by simply sharing my story to inspire people.”
It works for me.
Randy Gaddo served for 15 years as a director in municipal parks and recreation after retiring from 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps. He developed, wrote, administered, and presented maintenance plans as well as recreation master plans during that time. Gaddo earned his Master’s in Public Administration, and now lives in Beaufort, S.C. He can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.