Being told he'd never walk and talk again didn't stop a medically retired sailor from turning to cycling for recovery.
Retired Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jerry W. Padgett II served for 17 years as a damage controlman who conducted riverine and search and rescue operations. He was injured in an improvised explosive device blast in Afghanistan in 2006 while working with the Army's 10th Mountain Division in Kunar province. He received a spinal injury and a traumatic brain injury.
Medically retired Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Jerry W. Padgett II, front, raises his arms during the Face of America bike route in Gettysburg, PA on April 24, 2016. More than 150 disabled veteran cyclists were paired among 600 able-bodied cyclists to ride 110 miles from Arlington, VA to Gettysburg, PA over two days in honor of veterans and military members. (DoD photo by EJ Hersom )
After nine surgeries, Padgett said he began feeling sorry for himself.
“I wanted to feel sorry for myself, but then I had a friend who used to ride bikes come to be one day and he said, ‘Why don't you ride a bike?'” Padgett said. “I was like, ‘Whatever.' He brought a kid in, and this young man, he's climbed the second tallest mountain in the world in Nepal. He's a triple amputee due to diabetes. He uses his mouth and his hands. This kid climbs mountains with his hand and mouth. If I can't get myself out of this bed and into a chair and eventually onto a bike and ride 10 miles, then who am I? It really motivated me.”
Padgett hand cycles with nonprofit organizations and typically takes part in 100-mile multiday rides that take him across the country.
He said his motivation is, “What you do for yourself dies with you, but what you do for others, lives on for eternity. So what we do while riding is getting other veterans out the door and getting other people involved.”
Padgett said every group ride he participates in has veterans from every era, and the rides are all about the camaraderie and building lasting friendships.
He said he also appreciates that organizations such as Warriors4Life bring awareness to suicide prevention.
“They bring awareness that too many veterans are taking their lives,” he said. “Warriors4Life rides in every city. It brings awareness; it brings knowledge. It brings light to the darkness. We're an organization to stop suicide as the answer, whatever it may be, whatever it drives you to think that that's the option. We're going to ride it out, ride it away. There are better options.”
Padgett said the only true disability in life is the lack of communication.
“I was told I wouldn't walk and talk again, but I'm talking,” he said, smiling. “I'm not walking but I'm going distances. The true disability is the lack of communication, when you fail to ask somebody when you walk by, ‘How are you doing?' Are you okay?' People think I'm a little crazy. I ride in my wheelchair, and if I see somebody look at me, I wave at them and I say hello.
“One day, I had a plan to go on that lonely walk and not come back but there was this man,” he continued. “He's in our neighborhood, and everybody used to call him Weird John. He would always say hi to everybody. He walked up to me out of nowhere, gave me a hug and said, ‘How are you doing?' I looked at him and said, ‘Why did you do that?' He said, ‘You looked like you needed a hug.' And I did. You never know what kind of battle somebody comes out of, civilian or military.”
Padgett offers advice to veterans willing to recover from their visible and invisible injuries.
“Go to your local park and recs and see if they have adaptive sports or go to your local adaptive sports coordinator,” he said. “Be willing to listen as much as you want to talk. It will help you get out of that darkness. I used to tell people, it's hard to let go of the demons because there the only ones that held you when no one else would. Warriors4Life, the team will hold you until eventually you're able to hold someone else. You just have to make the effort and know that you're not alone.”
By Shannon Collins
DOD News / Defense Media Activity
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