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An Unbroken Spirit
by U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jeremy Starr - January 11, 2016

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It was after a snow storm when Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Laurie Wood saw her 9-year-old son outside. She peered out the window to see him scraping snow and ice from the wheel chair ramp leading up to their Norfolk, Virginia home.

"He didn't even have to be asked," said Wood, in her morning Facebook post.

Even as such a young boy, he's already a great man - and the legs of the family.

In April, 2012, as a member of the Norfolk sheriff's office, Wood was injured while going over training scenarios with an Academy class of recruits. She fell more than 20 feet from a roof, breaking her back, but not her spirit. Now as a paraplegic, she is proving every day that legs are a luxury, not a necessity.

Three photos of Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Laurie Wood from her Facebook page. On the left, Wood is lowered down a rock climbing wall with a rope. On the center and right, Wood participates in skiing event at a winter sports clinic. (U.S. Navy image collage by Petty Officer 1st Class Jeremy Starr, December 11, 2015 )
Three photos of Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Laurie Wood from her Facebook page. On the left, Wood is lowered down a rock climbing wall with a rope. On the center and right, Wood participates in skiing event at a winter sports clinic. (U.S. Navy image collage by Petty Officer 1st Class Jeremy Starr, December 11, 2015 )

Wood joined the Navy out of Peru, New York, at 17, right out of high school in 1995. Her brother was in the Navy and she knew it was something she wanted to do. She had a love of taking photos and when she realized she could be a photographer in the Navy, she was sold.

While stationed at Naval Air Station, Oceana, Virginia, she joined the Auxiliary Security Force as a collateral duty. She didn't know it at the time, but she was falling in love all over again, with law enforcement.

"I decided to transition to the reserves in 2000 so I could do both of the things I loved," said Wood. "I was able to continue to take photos for the Navy, while pursuing a career in law enforcement. I met a Norfolk deputy in the motorcycle community who helped me with the application process."

Wood joined the Norfolk sheriff's office in 2002 and worked in a variety of departments, the last of those being Academy Staff training, where she trained new recruits and seasoned deputies. She finally had it all.

And then the fall.

“If I didn't laugh, I'd cry," said Wood. "And I like laughing more. I love to smile, joke around, and I especially love shenanigans. I'm still me, I'm just sitting."
-MC1 Laurie Wood

The next person hit the hardest by Wood's accident was her son, Gavin, or as Wood calls him, Momma's lil hashbrown. Initially very scared by the whole thing, due to the amount of pain Wood was in, he has proven incredibly resilient.

"He was the one who said, 'you're still you, mom. You're just sitting.' He's a pretty smart little nugget," said Wood. "He loved to steal my chair and play around with it. That novelty has worn off a little, but he still tools around with it. He knows how to break it down piece by piece and put it back together, but he prefers to just pick the whole thing up and put it in the car. I still can't believe he can lift it! I try to spoil him whenever possible because he has so much to do around the house. Sweeping, mopping, emptying the dishwasher, bringing EVERYTHING up and down the stairs, and that's just the start of it. He's a great kid."

But that is in no small part due to his great mom.

"With her service record, two mobilizations and being our EP each cycle, she was no doubt on track for selection to Chief," said Chief Mass Communication Specialist Jim Bane. "Laurie didn't just learn the skills needed to become a good leader, she was born with them. She was ready for every challenge. And that hasn't changed. In a way, this paraplegic condition is more like a new job for her. She has taken it on in the same way she did every other challenge she was faced with. She started it with self-doubt, then anxiety, then energy and determination and finally success. This is where she is so great. Guys like me get too bogged down with the first two, self-doubt and anxiety. It's people like Laurie that move us out of that and into applying energy and determination to get to success and she is great at that, wheelchair or no wheelchair. "

"I was angry when I first saw her in the wheel chair," said Cmdr. Scot Cregan, commanding officer for Navy Public Affairs Support Element East, Norfolk. "We got through a tour in Afghanistan and to have something like this happen back home was just unfair. She saw that I was visibly distressed and just smiled and let me know she could still kick my ass! She's always been strong and is a fighter."

Staying positive is what gets Wood through the day, she said. She still has her feel sorry for herself moments, but they are few and far between.

"I have good days and not so good days, but I refuse to call any day where I wake up, bad," said Wood. "Overall, I just have to stay positive."

"After the accident, it was a big adjustment, but with her determination and positive attitude she is doing great," said Lawrence Wood, Laurie's brother. Laurie has had a great deal of support from her family and friends, and especially her son Gavin who helps her out a lot. She has found additional activities to do since her accident like swimming, playing sled hockey and her hand cycle. I'm extremely proud of her."

Laurie's family has definitely been a great support to her.

"My daddy retired early to help me out, and his wife took more than a month off of work to go back and forth between New York, Georgia and Virginia to help me," said Wood. "My brother Lenny retiled my kitchen floor, repainted my kitchen and tiled the backsplash. He also found sled hockey for me. My family, including my step sister, was very supportive. I want them to know how much I love them and appreciate their efforts."

"Laurie was, and continues to be, someone who never takes her mobility for granted," said Lt. Charity Edgar. "She was the first female SWAT team member, although it wasn't called that in Norfolk, but it was their version, and was given the sought after job of training recruits, very vigorous. She did Combat Camera for many years and had a deployment to Afghanistan, which resulted in some of the most amazing photographs I've ever seen. She's a huge badass!"

Although medically retired from both the sheriff's office and the military, Wood is not about to give up her title as a Sailor. Reserve unit members from NPASE were instrumental in her recovery.

"It really is true that you find out who your friends are in a time of need, and my unit is full of true friends," said Wood. "I love that we still continue to have dinner together when they arrive for drill weekend. It's not a question of if, just when and where. That means the world to me. They even had a fundraiser for me, and because of that, I was able to catch up on bills that were piling up and buy a front loading washer and dryer. That may not seem like a very big deal, but this injury has affected every aspect of my life, so something as simple as that makes a world of difference to me."

"The unit wanted to help," said Edgar. "We were so shocked by the severity of the accident. How could someone who valued life and mobility so much be injured in this way? So we rallied. Our leadership worked with the Hampton Roads Navy League to set up a fundraiser so gifts to Laurie would be tax-deductible. Personally, I did a half marathon and raised money and then had a Happy Hour post-race so Laurie could thank everyone who donated. Our senior leadership chipped in to get her some great tickets to see the Yankees, her favorite team. We always invite her to unit gatherings because she is and always will be part of the team. We enjoy her, but at the end of the day, we are really just doing what she'd gladly do for any of us."

"Whether it's to provide some training, help out with the Physical Fitness Assessment, or just say hi; I couldn't imagine myself not still being tied to the unit in some way," said Wood. "We've worked together and supported each other through deployments, personal and professional achievements, good times and bad. They've never left my side. The Navy has been a huge part of my recovery."

Wood is also lucky enough to have a "pretty cool" German shepherd named Squatch.

Initially, she was just an added member of the family as a pet, but Wood was fortunate enough to meet a dog trainer with Citizen K-9 in Virginia Beach. She offered to train Squatch to be a service dog.

"So far she's learned how to open and close kitchen cabinets, pick up dropped items, and transfer items from shelves to my shopping cart," said Wood. She'll also learn how to pull me when needed and even carry groceries in from the car. These things are easily taken for granted by most, but it makes life so much easier."

What hasn't been made easier for Wood is being content to just sit still. Seeing photos from her able-bodied days triggers a desire to really move.

"Riding my motorcycle, working at the Sheriff's Office Training Academy, being in the Navy, playing with my son; I was the girl climbing on anything and everything to get the perfect photo," said Wood. "I'm still able to drive with hand controls and live on my own with my son, and I'm involved in sled hockey. I even went to Colorado to try snowmobiling and skiing during a Winter Sports Clinic."

"I think Laurie getting involved with sled hockey was huge," said Edgar, who also works for an organization called Disabled American Veteran (DAV) in her civilian capacity. "Adaptive sports made her realize that although what she can do may be different, she can still do so much and continue to push limits. That's why I thought my work's Winter Sports Clinic was right up her alley."

"There is always something good you can pull out of something negative," said Wood. "It may not be the way I would have chosen, but I'm able to show my son how to overcome adversity, not to take anything for granted and to love with all your heart because circumstances can change in the blink of an eye. I take life one day at a time and remind myself how lucky I am to still be here in my son's life. I believe that nothing can stop me from doing anything I want, I believe in miracles, I believe that if you put your mind to something you can accomplish anything, I believe you should never say never, and I believe I'm still me, sitting; but always living."

By U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jeremy Starr
Provided through DVIDS
Copyright 2016

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