• This Is Why

    Continued Service

    From injured soldier to future PT.

    • By Victor Washington
    • May 2010

    Podcast: Listen to 'This Is Why' 

    As I sat in the 5-ton military vehicle, the sounds of mortar rounds crept closer and closer. Finally, I exited the truck to head for cover. Before I'd taken more than a step, a blast lifted me into the air, throwing me at least 10 feet.

    As yet unaware of my injuries-which would include a shattered radius, shrapnel wounds, and a golf ball-sized hole in my leg-in panic I stood up, only to fall face-first to the ground. I tried a second time, and somehow made it to our makeshift sleeping quarters, which once had served as a storage facility for Iraqi ammunitions. As I was being transported to the military installation's clinic for treatment, I pondered such questions as, was this what is meant to serve one's country? Had I made the right choice, joining the military? And, would I ever get the opportunity to accomplish my life's goals?"

    As I lay in a bed at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, I finally began to understand the severity of my condition. My father, also a military veteran, stared in disbelief, not uttering a word. My 8-year-old sister cried as if she'd been told her older brother had died in combat. Trying to fight back my tears, inside I knew I must battle to regain my life and refuse to allow my injuries to limit me.

    At Walter Reed, I faced not only physical challenges, but emotional ones as well. Scores of family members passed my door day and night, on their way to and from visiting other soldiers who had been injured in combat. I saw countless soldiers younger than me who had undergone amputations, were battling to recover from gunshot wounds, or had sustained traumatic brain injuries. In my heart, I knew I wanted to do something to help people in such situations regain their lives.

    How I would do that would become clear to me during the rehabilitation process. My physical therapist was one of the brightest, most caring individuals I'd ever met. (Never mind the pain he often put me through.) As I began my rehab, he said the words that not only would change my life but also would define my career path: "Together, we will work through this." Gradually, my fears for the future began lifting. I came to realize that I wasn't in this struggle by myself. I felt as if I was at the threshold of a new beginning.

    As my rehabilitation continued, many days were a struggle. I dealt with unrelenting pain, and the amount of effort necessary to initiate simple tasks often seemed monumental. I was unable to move my gross extremities or complete the smallest tasks. My morale suffered. Still, I'd always believed that everything in our lives happens for a reason-that God has a plan for each one of us. Even in my darkest moments I maintained that belief. I tried to see my injuries and rehabilitation as blessings in disguise that would reveal something about me that I needed to know and act upon.

    Every day my physical therapist reminded me to work hard to optimize my rehabilitation. Then, one day, it hit me that my rehabilitation and career goals-restoring function and improving quality of life-could be one and the same.

    Today, my sights are set on graduating from Marymount University as a doctor of physical therapy. Enrollment has afforded me the opportunity to one day help people such as my former comrades in arms. I believe that, with determination and dedication, I can excel in my chosen field and inspire others to join this great profession.

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