“When I lost my leg, my greatest concern was the unknown.”
This is Adam Popp, a 12-year combat veteran with the Air Force whose right leg was amputated after he was injured by an improvised explosive device (IED) in 2007. In a short video released this week by Shoulder 2 Shoulder, a veteran-owned, Virginia-based consulting firm, Popp is one of several wounded veterans to offer simple messages of support and encouragement to survivors of the Boston Marathon bombings.
“Try to focus more on the things you can do instead of what you can’t,” says Timothy Brown in the video. Brown, an explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician with the Marine Corps, lost both his legs and his right arm and sustained injuries to his left hand in an IED explosion in 2011.
“Don’t hide in your room,” says Taylor Morris. Morris, a Navy EOD technician and quadruple amputee, was injured in Afghanistan in May 2012.
The April 15 attacks near the finish line of the Boston Marathon left three people dead and more than 250 wounded, including numerous victims who faced amputation as a result of injuries from the bombs, which surgeons likened to IEDs.
Wounded veterans such as Popp, Brown and Morris understand what it’s like to wake up in a hospital bed with a body forever changed by a horrific act of violence. But the two-and-a-half-minute film doesn’t dwell on trauma itself: Instead, the words of the military survivors are punctuated by video clips of their recoveries and accomplishments. They swim. They lift weights. They ride mountain bikes, drive racecars, cross the finish lines at races.
“We thought it would be great if we could have almost sort of an amputee-to-amputee discussion, where these guys could reach back and think: Okay, when this first happened to me, here were my fears and concerns,” said Chris Ferguson, co-founder of Shoulder 2 Shoulder. “Actually showing, not telling, some clear proof of all the things that amputees are out doing all over the country.”
The veterans leapt at the chance to share their insight and experience with the civilian amputees, Ferguson said.
“The guys responded immediately and were very enthusiastic. Given the support that our country gives to our war veterans and fighters, this was a unique opportunity for them to give that back,” he said.
Most combat-wounded members of the military are treated together at a small number of hospitals, Ferguson said, and have access to resources that many civilians might not.
“That support network with the military is so powerful and so strong,” he said. “We just wanted to be able to extend that support network out to these civilian amputees.”
Shoulder 2 Shoulder, which devotes 50 percent of its profits to veteran-focused charities, was co-founded two years ago by Ferguson and Ken Falke, a former Navy bomb disposal expert who is also founder of the Wounded EOD Warrior Foundation and the Boulder Crest Retreat for Wounded Warriors, a sanctuary for recovering injured service members that is currently under construction in Bluemont, Va.
The video was posted to YouTube on Wednesday and by Thursday afternoon had over 6,500 views. Ferguson said the hope is that it will be seen and shared with bombing victims and anyone else who might benefit from its message.
“Your life will never be the same,” Popp says in the final moments of the video. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t go on to do amazing things with the second chance you were given.”