I feel like I have lived two lifetimes, the “before” and the “after” life. In my “before” life, I was an active duty Marine, a law enforcement officer, and a multi-sport athlete. I spent twenty-three years pursuing opportunities of various kinds and most of them were very physical in nature. For instance, one of my first jobs was filling sand-blasting machines with 100 lb. bags of sand. I enjoyed the physicality of manual labor and seeing a job accomplished in real time. The nature of building something up or tearing it down by hand was appealing. I've roofed houses, worked in manufacturing, split wood, landscaped, etc. but I always knew I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my father.
So at nineteen, I joined the United States Marine Corps as a heavy machine gunner. I enjoyed the challenge and the internal motivation that was demanded daily with the unique nature of infantry life: dealing with sleep and food deprivation, the unpredictable weather, the ability to traverse great distances on foot or be inserted via helo, the brotherhood, “Esprit de Corps”, and living life on the move (basically the life of a nomad albeit a very well armed one), all the while, relying mainly on the man to my right or left for survival, and carrying all of our essentials on our backs. "The good life".
After doing this for awhile, I chose to change careers and pursue law enforcement. I didn't want to lose touch with the Corps, so I transitioned to the Marine Corps Reserves, keeping a foot in the door just in case. This change allowed me to be closer to home and family, and to use the skills that I had obtained during my time on active duty, but was still physically demanding and allowed me to continue to serve.
June 5, 1995 started out like any other day, but would be the day that my “after” life would begin. That afternoon, I dove into the swimming pool at my mother’s home. In my mind, it was like any other jump into the pool. In reality, it was far different. After a day of horsing around and swimming, I told friends, I was going to dive in "just one more time”. Little did I know that "one last dive" would be literal. My head hit the slope at just the right angle to break my neck, changing the plans I had for my life forever. The break at the C6/C7 vertebrae instantly changed me from a physically challenging person into a physically challenged person.
Since that day, I've had to redefine myself or adapt if you will. I have three college degrees: an Associate degree in Criminal Justice, a Bachelor of Science in History, and a Masters in Education. These degrees have allowed me to learn more about myself and the world around me, and to challenge my intellect instead of just my brawn. I was able to navigate three college campuses and help them determine the needs of wheelers who would come after me. These times of adversity started a fire in me to make sure that wheelers everywhere could do all the things that they had a desire to accomplish. I just wasn’t sure how to accomplish this dream just yet.
During my spare time, I thought of ways to hunt, fish, travel, etc. because I didn’t want my life in a chair to be lacking. I wanted to prove that the chair was just an extension of me; my legs if you will. My spirit, drive, and desire to get out and go, pushed me to overcome many of the obstacles I found in my path. As time passed, I was able to purchase a home and a truck, and have had both fitted with accessible necessities to keep up with my life on the go. Over the years, I have met many people with differing types of disabilities, and my dream to empower them has only grown stronger.
In July of 2014, I began a non-profit organization called (R.O.A.R.) with the purpose of redefining limitations and empowering the disabled to get out and live life to its fullest. Rediscovering Outdoor Activities & Recreation (R.O.A.R.) is thriving and reaching out every day to those who don’t yet know what to do in their “after” lives. R.O.A.R. provides opportunities to go hunting, fishing, bowling, swimming, as well as attending local and national ballgames. While my “before” dream is different than my “after” dream, the reality is that I am still living my life to its fullest, and that’s all that matters. Never be "limited" by the labels others give you, but rather strive daily to push past the limits you put on yourselves and let the world hear you "ROAR".
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