Category Archives: General

My journey to Carstenzs Pyramid

Early into the summer of 2011 I came across a picture of a double amputee (one leg above the knee and one leg below the knee) on his attempt to climb Mt Kilimanjaro. I found the image incredibly inspiring and realized that I suddenly had the urge to climb my own mountain. I never considered mountain climbing before, but then again, I had never considered most other things that I’ve done in my life and have done well. So, from that moment on I set out to find my way to and up a mountain. How does one do that? after all, I had no idea where or who to turn to for research or guidance so I decided to do what most of us do these days to find an answer and that is Google. For several weeks I entered random searches on “mountain climbing”, “amputee mountain climbing”, “wounded warrior mountain climbing,” so on and so fourth. Since I wasn’t real sure what I should be looking for, I chose not to settle for the first site I come across. I did however, come across one website that was consistently popping up on my searches and it was the website of Tim Wayne Medvets and The Heroes Project. He was the first person I emailed and as luck would have it, he was the only person I had to reach out to as Tim called me a day later. Tim’s vision for his organization was to take 7 injured veterans and for each of them to climb one of the 7 summits of the world.

Usually, when I meet/speak with someone in a business setting I try to remain professional and somewhat reserved. But, for some reason, I was feeling extra cocky the first day that I spoke with Tim . So, when we discussed the possibility of The Heroes Project taking me on one of their climbs I proclaimed, “I want a mountain and I need a real challenge, nothing easy, I want to be tested.” I said it as though I were interviewing Tim, Luckily, it worked in my favor. Tim called me just a few days later and informed me that I was chosen by the board as a climber and he added that it was my arrogance that he liked. I later found out that there was a plan to take a veteran with a visual impairment to Carstenzs Pyramid in Indonesia because it is one of the most technically challenging of the 7 summits. It is not to say that being blind would make it an easy climb, in fact it would be very difficult, but, at the time that was the plan for the climb. Tim liked the idea of pushing the limits and when he mentioned taking me, a double amputee, he was told it was a bad idea. One of the many things Tim and I have in common is that when we are told that we can’t do something we have to prove that it can be done. Tim felt as though I was the perfect candidate to take on Carstenzs Pyramid and that is how my journey to the mountain began.

From the moment I made the decision to pursue this goal, I knew that I had to step up my training. The time I spent at the gym was good enough for the races I entered but for such an intense climb I needed to get to the next level. I have always loved fitness and pushing myself in the gym but, I always knew that having someone train me, push me and challenge me would elevate me to that next level. A few years earlier, I had met Sean Dickson, a Special Forces Soldier that had become the owner and trainer at Combat Fitness Training Facility in Hoover, AL. Sean is a fierce competitor who knows how to push others. Whether someone is just looking to get into better shape, compete or in my case, climb a mountain in a way that has never been done before, Sean is able to design that perfect plan. Like a scientist splitting atoms, Sean is an expert in his field and takes every training session extremely seriously.For that reason, I decided to join CFTF and have Sean train me.

I still knew that I needed more than just more strength and endurance training, I needed to spend time tied to a rope, hanging off the sides of rocks to simulate my mountain. Luckily, I found First Avenue Rocks in Birmingham, the only rock climbing gym in the area. I decided to stop by the facility one day, the minute I walked in,I was greeted by a man named Joe Ortega. I began to explain to him all about my up coming trip, that I needed someone to help me quickly and safely learn to climb and more importantly, do it for free because I did not have the funds to pay for the training. It turned out that Joe- the owner, was once a medic in the Army and his father was a Veteran that served in the 101st just like I did. Joe had no problem telling me,”We’ll do it!” I was very excited with how well everything was coming together. Joe began taking me to climb in places I never knew existed in Alabama, and helped me become a decent climber. The last piece of the puzzle was Biotech Limb and Brace which as always are dedicated to making sure my legs are able to handle my intense training and ready for my climb. Biotech has also become a very critical sponsor helping me purchase some of my expensive climbing gear.

We are set to climb this November and I cannot wait. I want this climb now, more than I could’ve ever imagined. I want it for myself, to inspire others, specifically for anyone that has been told they couldn’t do something. But, something deeper is at the heart of my climb. A close friend of mine, Ethan Biggers, whom I served in Iraq with both in 2003 and again in 2005 was shot 2 months after I was injured and was in a coma when he arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in D.C. Where I was recovering. I became close with his wonderful family and was crushed a year later when I got the phone call with the news that he had passed away. When his sister Liza heard I was going to climb a mountain she called their brother Matt and told him of my upcoming trip. Matt made a plaque in Ethan’s memory and asked me to place it atop Carstenzs Pyramid, it has now become the ultimate reason for pushing myself daily.
I don’t want to climb this difficult mountain, I need to climb this mountain. I know when I reach the summit it will be emotional, after all a lot is being poured into this climb. Not only by myself in training, but by my sponsors who believe in me, the memory of Ethan and all those incredible men that I served with and who are not here with us anymore, those who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice. I can’t and I won’t let those men down, I believe that nothing pushes the human body more than that. All that is left to do before the climb is to train like a machine!

– All images are courtesy of Ellie Marks

My Journey to Blogging

Charles Swindoll once said, “Words can never adequately convey the incredible impact of our attitudes toward life. The longer I live the more convinced I become that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we respond to it.”
The quote above is one that I have come to live by. The philosophy of it isn’t new to me; I have always been able to find a silver lining to most things in my life. But, today more than ever, I am able to see a deeper meaning to Swindoll’s words.

In early 2001, I found myself in a rut. I was a high school drop out with no way of ever really becoming anyone. I considered joining the military and therefore, I had to pursue my GED. But, once I took the GED exam and passed with ease, I was encouraged by others to pursue higher education instead of joining the military. My mother’s side of the family is filled with active duty and retired veterans of the military, all with very successful and fulfilling time in.But, at that time, I didn’t see myself living up to those standards and that is why I decided to start college.

On the morning of 9/11 I watched along with the rest of the world the horrific events of that day unfold. I remember going for a run after the second plane hit the WTC; at that moment, I decided the military was where I was supposed to be.

Once in the army, I was assigned to the 101st out of Ft Campbell, KY as an infantry soldier. My unit was part of the initial invasion into Iraq in 2003. My second deployment was in 2005 and was cut short after my Humvee hit a trip wire improvised explosive device (IED) on Dec 19 2005. I awoke on Christmas morning at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It was shocking news to hear I had lost my left arm above the elbow and left leg above the knee. My jaw was also shattered leaving my mouth wired shut for several months. In addition, I had serious injuries to my right leg. It is safe to say that I’ve had better Christmas’.

Fast forward to present day where I am going on my 7th anniversary of my injury and truth be told, I couldn’t be happier. I like to think that if I wake up one day and my limbs miraculously return, you would never see me walking, I would do so much more than I ever did before. You honestly don’t appreciate what you have until it is gone. I meet people all the time that “want” to get in to shape, or “want” to just be healthier. And I say, “Do It!” Not everyone is expected to compete at an Olympic level, or can afford to join expensive gyms with great trainers, but everyone can change the way they live and eat. There are numerous gyms in every area that fit a specific need, find one that works for you. Does it take time, dedication and a little will power? Yes. Is it always easy? No, but the outcome is literally life changing.

I want to share my adventures, my triumphs, and because they are always inevitable I want to share my failures and what I learn from them. I want to motivate others to get off the couch and start living their lives. I want to encourage you to not wait until a horrible accident leaves you thinking, “Why didn’t I use what I had when I had it?” That is why I chose to start blogging.

We all have obstacles that will constantly haunt us and convince us “it” isn’t possible. But until you honestly give it your all, can you truly say it was an obstacle at all? Or, did you just use it as an excuse? Truth be told, my injuries have slowed me down. My run time is slower and much more difficult. Working out takes a lot more thinking and preparing. Obstacle course style races are almost impossible without my teammates. But, have they really slowed me down? Or, have they increased my mental strength and have given me a reason to push harder with each day?
I refuse to accept that I have a disability. I appreciate what I have when I wake up every morning. I live with life’s challenges and happily take them on full force.

Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it. I see myself in the mirror with my mechanical running leg and I am proud of it. I earned it fighting in combat and I decided NOT to let it slow me down. I have realized that, if you really want to give your all, if you want to be more than just average, you must push the limits. Each one of us is different but, at the same time, every person can be proud of his/her achievements and say, “I stepped out of my comfort zone, I trained harder today than I did yesterday. “ Are you willing to be that person? Do you want to have those around you amazed at your ability to take on any challenge and crush it without a second thought? If so, follow me and don’t just train, Train Like A Machine!