06 November 2014

A bullet and a philosophy

This is not my story. But it is a story that resonates with me because it is about a man whom I admire, not only for his willingness to put himself in harm's way but because of how he took hold of his new life and charged forward, still seeking to serve and give back.
During deployment in Afghanistan
Capt Derek Herrera, a MARSOC Marine, was conducting village stability operations in southern Afghanistan on June 14, 2012, when shots rang out. The first hit his sergeant in the neck, the second lodged into the left side of Capt Herrera's spine. As he tried to pick himself up to move the sergeant, Capt Herrera realized he couldn't move his body. He was paralyzed from the chest down.

After months of hospitalization and rehabilitation, Capt Herrera rejoined his unit at Camp Pendleton. He also began a new mission.

In his words: "I have always lived by the philosophy that I cannot waste any energy on things that are beyond my control. Instead I focus on the things I can control."

For Capt Herrera, that meant returning to an active lifestyle, replete with triathlons, road races and marathons, as well as massive strengthening in his upper body for his next challenge. What was it? To get back on his feet, literally. Capt Herrera is working with ReWalk Technologies, utilizing their ExoSkeleton technology to take those steps.

But to get to those first steps was an incredible endeavor. Because the technology was in clinical trials, it was not covered by his insurance nor was it approved for use by military personnel. Capt Herrera persisted, and, after garnering approval to utilize the ExoSkeleton for rehab and with the direct help of MARSOC Foundation, was able to obtain an ExoSkeleton. It is now an integral part of his therapy, and he hopes that eventually, it will be part of his everyday capabilities.

I had the privilege of meeting Capt Herrera at the MARSOC Foundation's pre-race dinner for the Marine Corps Marathon, where he was the guest speaker. I have known about him since he was injured, but to be able to meet him was humbling and an honor. (For the record, he finished 3rd in his AG and 25th male in the hand-crank race, with a PR, no less.)

I share his story with you, because as he stated during his speech, "It is those who are willing to give to strangers, to help others in their fight to recover, to find a way to be of service, that make this nation great."

He also acknowledged that it is hard to ask for help, difficult to reach out and say, 'I can't do this on my own.' Capt Herrera and his wife have received assistance from the Semper Fi Fund to help retrofit their home to make it wheelchair compatible and MARSOC Foundation raised the money for the ReWalk device. In the video below, you'll hear Capt Herrera talk about paying it forward. I believe that's what it is all about.

My run this weekend is a 24-hour race. With my calf injury, I know I won't cover as many miles as I had planned, but I am going out there to cover as much ground as I can, and I ask you for your help in supporting my efforts to raise funds for the MARSOC Foundation. One dollar for every hour I complete or .50 cents for every mile I cover, your choice.  Email me or make a comment on this post on Facebook to make a pledge. Immediately following the race's completion on Sunday morning, I will post and tweet the total mileage and total hours. Thank you.


1) Derek Herrera's Blog & Website
2) Derek Herrera'sYouTube channel
3) U-T San Diego story on Capt Herrera's injury and recovery
4) MarineTimes article on ExoSkeleton
5) Task & Purpose article on Capt Herrera's appointment as CEO of RuckPack.

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