SOLDIER STORIES: It’s all in your focal point.
Retired Command Sergeant Major Chris Self cycles to victory in the Men’s Bicycle Physical Disability race during the 2013 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
(Photos by EJ Hersom, 12 MAY 2013. Article by Frances Johnson, posted on DOD Warrior Care Blog 11 JUN 2013. Source.)
Caught in a firefight with escaped prisoners during his fifth deployment to Iraq with the 5th Special Forces Group, Chris Self was shot through both legs but figured it was just another day on the job, not a life-changing moment.
“When I first got shot I thought it was no big deal,” he said. “I mean, it hurt. Don’t get me wrong. But I didn’t think it was too serious.”
In fact, he didn’t think he’d even have to leave Iraq to be treated. But, a nerve in his right leg had been severed, rendering it useless below the knee, and in 2006 Chris went to Portsmouth Naval Hospital to have it amputated.
It was a nerve-wracking time, Chris said, but he was never worried about his military career, or what he would do afterwards. In fact, Chris deployed twice more to Iraq after losing his leg, before retiring from the Army in 2013.
While he wasn’t worried about whether or not he would be able to continue his military service, Chris’ physical recovery had its challenges, including a 50-pound weight gain in the hospital. A former triathlete and cycling enthusiast, Chris was introduced to adaptive cycling organizations by another amputee recovering at Walter Reed and he eventually found himself back on a bike.
“I always had a bad bicycle habit,” Chris said. “I had a lot of bicycle stuff around when I got wounded, and I was afraid I’d have to give it up when I got wounded. It was a team effort to figure out how to make it work now that I had to overcome these obstacles.”
That team consisted of excellent medical care providers, Chris said, but also his “home team” including his wife, Dana, and three children, Jordan, Haley and Reese.
“Without their support, I would not be where I am today,” he said.
But, with their support, he was able to overcome over come every obstacle in his way. Competing at this year’s Warrior Games as a member of the SOCOM team Chris successfully defended his gold medal in the men’s disability cycling category, claiming the top prize for the second year in a row.
For people with lifelong injuries, such as his, “recovery is forever,” Chris said, and participating in adaptive sports, including competing in the Warrior Games, has contributed to that recovery in more ways than one.
“The activity level and physical fitness help you recover faster than someone who doesn’t do it,” he said.
But the psychological benefits of a team environment and a common goal have also played a critical role.
“Especially for the retired guys like me, it gets you back with Soldiers and you get that camaraderie for a short time that you had in the military,” Chris said. “You get to meet other people with the same injuries, and you get to meet people with other injuries and illnesses and obstacles and it helps put things in perspective. My injury is a stubbed toe compared to what some of these guys and gals deal with. I’m lucky to only be missing part of my leg, that’s for sure.”
Not content to focus only on his own recovery, Chris also brings his experience and perspective to bear as an Operation Warfighter (OWF) regional coordinator, assisting other recovering Service members as they plan for their own futures.
“It’s a pretty good job, especially because everything we do positively impacts Service members,” he said. “Their eyes get wide open when they realize all the doors these internships will open.”
Chris was actually first introduced to OWF during his own recovery, but he wasn’t able to participate in an internship before his separation. He said he wishes the program had been more robust back then, but he is making up for it now by spreading the word about the benefit of Federal internships to any and every recovering Service member who will listen.
“It will take their mind off what they can’t do anymore and put their mind on the things they can do,” he said. “It’s not a hard product to sell.”
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