On March 25, 2018, I took part in the Bataan Memorial Death March, a challenging 26.2 miles march through the high desert terrain of the White Sands Missile Range. I completed this event thanks to Operation Enduring Warrior (OEW). OEW is a veteran-founded non‐profit 501(c)(3) whose mission is to honor, empower, and motivate our nation’s wounded veterans through physical, mental and emotional rehabilitation. OEW's programs help participants overcome adversity and hardship through innovation, teamwork, and perseverance. This ultimately enables the lives of wounded veterans to go in directions they may have once thought were impossible. So, a little bit about myself...
I am a combat-wounded U.S. Army Iraq War veteran. I served with 3-15 Infantry, Fort Stewart, and was deployed to the Middle East for one year. On March 12, 2008, I was diagnosed with an uncommon neurological disorder called transverse myelitis (TM). TM is an inflammation of both sides of one section of the spinal cord. This neurological disorder often damages the insulating material covering nerve cell fibers (myelin)., resulting in paralysis. The annual incidence of transverse myelitis ranges from 1.34 to 4.60 cases per million. Initially, I was paralyzed from the T5 and T6 vertebrae, with a lack of function in the legs and torso (paraplegia).
Because of Operation Enduring Warrior, I found a new passion that pushed the boundaries of my diagnosis. I have completed two Spartan Races, the Green Beret obstacle course race, and more recently, the Bataan Memorial Death March. In addition to physical therapy I receive at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, I complete endurance events that I thought were otherwise impossible. By pushing my perceived limitations, I am becoming healthier, both mentally and physically. By completing events with other wounded veterans with OEW, I am overcoming post-traumatic stress and the neurological conditions of TM. But OEW can't provide these opportunities alone.
I am an adaptive athlete and am not required to do any fundraising for OEW. I do this in order to give back to the organization for providing me the opportunity to complete events. Will you support OEW with a donation so they can continue their mission of empowering wounded service members?
Thanks for your support!"
"nothing's impossible now..."
By Honoree, Eric Hunter
My name's Eric Hunter... I served in the army for 6 years as support for 5th Special Forces Group, with two deployments- Iraq and Afghanistan. I was injured in Afghanistan- by stepping on an improvised explosive device losing my right leg below the knee and severely wounding my left leg. I’m married with three awesome kids- and I remain active and stay as intense as possible at the gym.
I wasn’t always that way... After my injuries, I felt worthless and like I would never be able to do certain things again. Brian (OEW's Adaptive Athlete Liaison), stayed on me about coming out with OEW to a Spartan Race- Which I did in 2015.
At the beginning I had doubts... doubts that I might not be able to complete it due to my injuries.... And at the end of the race- I thought... man, that was literally one of the toughest things I’ve done... I’ll never do it again.
The point is... I did it... and that set the tone for where I am today... nothing’s impossible now... I started doing acting... I do leg day... with more weight than I could before my injuries... I’ve gotten back on a mountain in Colorado snowboarding and I remain focused and driven to take care of my family.
This all started with a simple feeling of accomplishment, exhaustion, and surprising myself when I completed that spartan race... with the help of Brian and the OEW family.
I just wanted to let y’all all know how much this organization has helped me and they are very deserving of your support and donations. I couldn’t be the man I am today without that race, and the brotherhood that group provides.
Ps.... somebody please get Brian in the gym... he’s shrinking."
"OEW saved my life.
Skydiving saved my life...."
By Honoree & Community Ambassador, Christina Tobin
"I have suffered from PTSD/Depression and Anxiety from trauma experienced while enlisted in the Army for the past 13 years. I have had countless long days spent at the VA, 100’s of hours of talk therapy, EMDR therapy, and medication management to treat the PTSD/depression... many tried and failed Rx’s.
I was looking for anything that might be able to get me past this super low quality of life bar that had been unwillingly set for me.
Last year I discovered the insane want and desire to jump out of a plane. It came on very sudden and it was a need I couldn’t stifle. I had to do it. I had to prove to myself that I COULD do it.
The OEW organization made this attainable for me. Along with my other treatment, I have discovered my “missing link” to obtaining that healthy state of mind I had been searching for.
It unwittingly became part of my therapy.
The most healing and reenergizing moments I experience are in free fall. I get to hit the reset button on every jump. Everything in life feels possible again.
The day-to-day is more manageable.
My overwhelming and sometimes crippling anxiety tones itself down again.
The PTSD and Depression when I am actively jumping is negligible.
It truly is a beautiful, breathtaking, and magical healing sport.
OEW saved my life. Skydiving saved my life.
More than that...
It gave me back....
The ME that joined the Army Post-9/11, and wasn’t afraid of anything life had to throw at her. The ME who lacked little or no confidence and motivation in her day to day actions. The old Xstina was/is back. It’s my missing link... for sure.
Skydiving continues to feed my soul almost a year later. I cannot imagine my life without it. Skydiving gives back to me what I invest. The more input or time I invest, the greater the positive beneficial output is. I can see it in my increased enjoyment and interactions at work, my mood, or just my ability to handle myself in crisis.
And of course, You can’t talk about skydiving without talking about Sky Family. I may be biased but Skydive Orange is the most rad, supportive, caring, and simply amazing sky family around. On so many levels they have always come through for me.
Then there is the trust of putting your life in a collective group’s hands, and it is a feeling like no other. There is undoubtedly an unspoken bond and trust between skydivers. It happens every time you ask for a gear check, or do a linked exit, or enter a high traffic landing pattern.
I haven’t experienced this level of comfort or trust with a group since the military, and that’s huge for me. And I cherish it.
The people and the Dropzone just make everything .... not-so-overwhelming. It’s a release. A place for you to mind-dump anything and everything you have been worrying about. Even if only for a few hours. It’s a safe space.
My safe and Happy Place - Skydive Orange.
Thanks to Charles Hashek and Pam Young for humoring me and finally saying yes and hosting this fundraiser! Being able to pay forward this gift is simply amazing.
Veta Murv - you are my hero. Thank you for recognizing the crazy positive potential to help veterans like myself and Combat Wounded Veterans find that “missing link” that skydiving provides for so many.
Thank you Operation Enduring Warrior, especially Brian Lackey and Thomas Sandler for all of the selfless things you do for us."