Back in the summer of 2008 I was a young 25-year-old who had just gotten out of the Army and moved back home to Shelbyville, Indiana. While I was enjoying being back home and not dealing with the pressures of the military, I needed a change from the small town where I had graduated high school.
I didn’t have anything that was keeping me tied down, so I decided to move to Portland, Oregon. I had some extended family there and whenever I would visit as a kid, I would always tell myself that someday I would move there. I had the perfect opportunity in late summer 2008 so I took advantage of it, packed my bags, and drove the 35+ hours to Portland.
Everything was going great. I was having fun enjoying time with family whom I hadn’t seen in quite awhile and in that first week there I landed a great job at an aerospace company where I was to start in 2 weeks. The weekend before I was supposed to start that job was going to be one of the last weekends the weather would be nice so my aunts fiancé, Dave, invited a few of us to the Tillamook Sand Dunes to ride 4wheelers and have fun riding his dune buggy.
The night before we were all to meet out there Dave and I loaded up one of his 4wheelers into my truck so that I could ride it on the dunes prior to everyone else getting there. I got to the dunes early the next morning to claim our spot before too many people showed up as this is an extremely popular place for people to camp, party, and ride ATVs.
My grandma and her husband were also there to hangout and have fun with all of us. While waiting for everyone else to show up I took the loaded up 4wheeler out onto the sand dunes and even onto the beach, I was having a good time and was even contemplating the idea of buying a 4wheeler of my own as I knew the family was going to be going out there quite frequently and wasn’t too far from Portland where we all lived.
Later that afternoon everyone else had arrived, my aunt Sheri and her fiancé Dave, my two cousins Chiara and Matt along with Chiara’s friend Savina. After getting our camp setup and visiting for a bit Dave wanted to take a few of us out in the dune buggy so Chiara, Savina, and myself loaded up and Dave of course drove.
After having our fun jumping the dunes and doing donuts we started heading back to camp.
The next thing I remember is waking up in the dune buggy, when I woke up, I knew something had happened but didn’t know what exactly. I yelled “Get me the f#ck out of here!” There was someone holding my neck who told me not to move because my legs were pretty messed up.
Of course what do I do, I try to move. To my surprise I couldn’t move, I thought I was paralyzed and blacked out. The next thing I vaguely remember is being wheeled into the ambulance, my grandma was standing by the door and understandably was in shock, as was I. I told her everything was going to be fine, then blacked out again.
I don’t remember anything else from that night although the first responders, paramedics, and doctors have all told me that I was awake and talking normally from the point that I had first woken up and yelled for them to get me out of the dune buggy.
Apparently, I was awake for them cutting me out of the car, the ambulance ride, the life flight helicopter ride back to Portland, all of it and I don’t remember anything. When I finally woke up in the hospital my dad and uncle were standing at the end of my bed.
I knew I had to have been out for quite a while because my dad had to travel from Shelbyville, Indiana to Portland. My first question was about how the others were doing. All my dad told me was that Savina was doing ok and she was at another hospital in Portland.
When he told me that I intuitively knew my cousin Chiara and Dave didn’t make it. I immediately fell back asleep. The next time I woke up is when I noticed the severity of my injuries. My left arm was in a sling, my right leg had this huge cage around it called an external fixator, and my left leg was gone from the knee down. In that moment I felt every emotion you can think of.
My left arm was broken in 3 different places that required 2 plates and 13 screws to mend. My right leg was shattered like a piece of glass and my surgeon would later tell me there were more breaks in it than he could really count. If the accident had happened 5 years prior, I would have lost that leg as well.
My left leg had been so disfigured that there were pieces of bone still in the car when I got to the hospital. What exactly had happened was that there was another person coming out of the camping area we were headed back to doing a wheelie in his dune buggy. Because it was around 10pm when this happened, we never saw him, and he never saw us.
The driver’s side rear wheel had run over my legs and clipped my arm. It didn’t help that the guy that hit us also had a blood alcohol content of .28 three hours after the accident. I spent 2 weeks in the hospital going through multiple surgeries.
After the 2 weeks in the hospital I was sent home and spent 3 months in bed playing Gears of War 2 on Xbox. I remember some nights eating pain pills like they were Skittles hoping it would just all end. It was a very dark time in my life as well as for the rest of the family.
My Aunt had just lost her 19-year-old daughter and fiancé, yet she was also the one taking care of me. Without her I don’t think I would have made it out of those first 3 months of recovery. She’s definitely one of the strongest, if not, THE strongest person I know and cannot thank her enough.
After those initial 3 months I was able to get fitted for my first prosthetic leg. Over the course of the next year I was learning how to walk with the prosthetic and fighting with regaining my confidence. I also fought with depression and fell heavily into alcohol.
There were weeks where the only thing I drank was vodka. I also fought with bouts of severe anger and was just mad at the world in general. After months of drowning myself in booze my body had finally had enough of the abuse and started giving me signs that I should probably stop drinking, I’ll spare you the details of what exactly those signals were.
Over the course of the next few years I got back to work and in general, fell back into the routine I had prior to the accident. I ended up landing the quality control tech position for a company that made artificial knee implants, go figure right.
While I was somewhat happy with what I was doing I knew something was missing. I had been an Anthony Bourdain fan for years and had always wanted to travel, snowboard, cycle, summit mountains, etc. Then one day at that job I finally quit. I had had enough.
Since then I have worked in a few kitchens in the Grand Teton National Park and have also been an airport shuttle driver for Vail Resorts in Colorado. Being in those environments has allowed me to learn how to snowboard, summit mountains, and meet some of the most amazing people. Then one day I learned about this awesome prosthetic that Mike Schultz, founder of Biodapt had developed called the MotoKnee.
The prosthetic I was using to snowboard and cycle with wasn’t exactly designed to do those activites, while I was still able to use it, it wasn’t the best tool for the job. So much so that fellow amputee snowboarders, cyclists, and even my prosthetists were amazed that I could use it for those activities. I knew I had to get my hands on a MotoKnee.
Unfortunately, insurance companies don’t cover “luxury” prosthetics as they are not a “necessity” as they say. I once again was kicked down and thought that I’ll just have to keep using my everyday walking prosthetic and hope I don’t damage it in the process.
Then someone in the amputee community told me about the Challenged Athletes Foundation. A nonprofit that works with amputees and other differently abled people from all over the world by helping them get specialty prosthetics and adaptive sports equipment to participate in various activities. But yet again I was saddened to learn that I had just missed the annual application cut of date by 3 weeks.
That’s when I decided to put up a fundraiser on Facebook to see if any of my friends would help me gather the funds to purchase my own MotoKnee. And to my amazement within a month my awesome friends had collectively raised the money.
I soon had the knee and my skill level on day one had skyrocketed! I could snowboard with much more confidence, could make it down the mountain without having to stop for a break, and can also ride my fully loaded bikepacking bike all day long.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for reading this lengthy and very personal post. Writing this was a bit difficult even though the accident was back in 2008. Stay safe out there you beautiful people!