Refusing to quit, disabled veteran aims to inspire others

Posted at 6:39 PM, Jul 30, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-30 18:39:47-04
(CNN) — Noah Galloway’s daily workouts could intimidate the most seasoned athlete. He runs, climbs, does pull-ups and push-ups, and lifts weights for nearly two hours at a time. But what really sets this 30-year-old father of three apart is that he does it all with one arm and one leg.

In the aftermath of September 11, Galloway felt called to serve his country. At 19, he withdrew from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and enlisted in the United States Army.

“After we were attacked, I felt like it was what I needed to do. I quit school and started off on a new journey.”

Galloway was deployed to Iraq with the 101st Airborne out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, in 2003. After becoming a husband and father, he returned for a second tour in 2005.

“They put us in an area that was known as the triangle of death. It was southwest of Baghdad. The units that had been there before us had taken a beating. It was just a rough area.”

Four months into his second deployment, he was trying to catch a bit of sleep between missions when his platoon leader woke him.

“He said, ‘Hey, we’re gonna go take these Humvees to go pick up the rest of the platoon.’ Said there’s nothing important going on. We’re just going to pick them up, coming back. Just wanted you to know we’re leaving.”

But Galloway says he insisted on not only joining the convoy but driving the lead vehicle, a decision that put him in the path of a roadside bomb detonated by a trip wire.

Four days later, on Christmas morning, Galloway woke in Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.

“I had no idea where I was or how I got there. I remember waking up and seeing my parents walking in. I knew I was somewhere safe because they were there, and something told me to smile because they’d know I was OK.”

He lost his left arm above the elbow and left leg above the knee. His jaw needed to be reconstructed, and his mouth was wired shut. His recovery was as rough emotionally as it was physically, and during it he and his wife divorced.

“I remember thinking it was all over. I was very physical. I’d lost two limbs, a wife. You know, I remember thinking I much rather had died than wake up like this,” Galloway said.

His attitude started to shift thanks, in part, to a fellow amputee: his father, who lost his hand at age 18 when a machine malfunction at the plant where he worked.

“I remember there was a moment that my mom leaned in and told me while I laid in the hospital bed, and she said, ‘You just had to outdo your dad and lose your arm and your leg,’ and it was that moment that I thought, ‘you know, this is bad, but it could be worse. Maybe I can do something with this.’ “

Galloway moved back home to Alabama, remarried and had two more children. He then decided it was time he got back into shape.

He found Combat Fitness Training Facility in Birmingham. The gym is owned by an Army veteran who designs military-inspired workouts that Galloway thrives on.

“He’s shown great drive, and basically the goals that he sets, every time he achieves one, he sets a higher one,” Combat Fitness owner Sean Dickson said.

Galloway continues to push himself harder and now competes in grueling races like the Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder, in which runners tackle an obstacle course. He is also training to run the Marine Corps Marathon in October. He has documented his journey through social media and garnered a legion of supporters with his story.

“People started following me in what I was doing, sending me messages and telling me how I motivated them. Some were people with disabilities. Some were not,” Galloway said. “I never intended that to happen. I was just doing something for myself.”

Seeing his recovery as an opportunity to motivate others, he joined Team X-T.R.E.M.E. The nonprofit enlists people to participate in physically demanding races wearing gas masks. The proceeds are used to take injured veterans on morale-boosting trips.

Galloway will be donning his gas mask in the Spartan Race in Richmond, Virginia, this August, when he and other team members will skydive to the starting line in hopes of inspiring his fellow injured vets.

“It’s not that I’m this incredible guy, but my injury was before them. And if I can show them the route I took to success, then they can follow the same, and that makes me feel good.”

Galloway is passionate about leading other veterans to recovery and showing them what they can do instead of what they can’t, but the most important people he hopes to inspire are much closer to home.

“I’m showing my two sons and my daughter that no matter what happens to you in life, you can continue pushing. You can continue to be happy and do whatever you want to do. I feel like I’m showing them what they need to do, because as a parent, you can try to preach to your children all day long. They don’t hear your words. They only see your actions. And I hope that I’m showing them a healthy, happy way of leading their life.”