Graduating at just 16 years of age, Chris Hull’s father gave him three options for life after high school: go to college, get a job, or join the military. Hull chose the military: “I finished high school at 16 and was really kind of tired of school so military sounded like a great option to me. The Army was giving out great bonuses at the time; it was right after September 11th, so that was a big motivation to join, as well.”
Injured right before deployment
Heading home on leave just before deploying, Hull’s friend fell asleep at the wheel. He recounts, “Friday the 13th at exit 13. The day before Valentine’s Day, we were headed home before our deployment, and he just happened to fall asleep behind the wheel.”
Healing and learning
In total, Hull broke eleven bones in his body in the accident, in addition to suffering a traumatic brain injury. He underwent multiple surgeries to fix fractures in both his wrist and neck and his road to recovery was complicated by illness and infections; rehab would take seven months of inpatient therapy. Treating his recovery as a job made the long process easier, Hull says, “It’s a long process, it isn’t a hard process, but it’s just like any other job if you think about it as going to work. It makes things much easier.”
Working with a dedicated and talented staff streamlined Hull’s recovery process, he says, “I’m just really thankful for all of the therapists and people at the Tampa VA that worked really hard to get me back into fighting shape.”
Hooked in 3 hours
Adaptive sports provided a sense of purpose for Hull and a way to get out of his head. After spending some time feeling sorry for himself, it was a call from a friend that would set Hull’s athletic career in motion.
When Hull’s friend, and former roommate at the Tampa VA, called him to tell him about an adaptive sports program that was starting in Jacksonville, it ended up being the nudge Hull needed to get out of his funk. Says Hull, “I went up there one Saturday for practice and spent three hours with those guys and decided that I loved wheelchair rugby and that was going to be the thing I was going to do. I fell in love with it instantly. I moved up to Jacksonville within four months of playing, and it’s been wheelchair rugby ever since then.”
“They’ve given me a goal to work towards.”
Once Hull got a taste of competition through adaptive sports, his life changed for the better: “All the things that I’ve tried at the Wheelchair Games have made me a better person. They’ve given me a goal to work towards. It’s just made me successful, and I’m a better person because of adaptive sports and the Veterans Games than I would have been otherwise.”
Apart from the competitive aspect of the Games, Hull considers himself part of a large, extended family. Each year the National Veterans Wheelchair Games give veterans the opportunity to catch up with one another, share in friendly competition, and continue to grow their network. However, the impact of the Games is felt not just on the participating athletes, it extends to all who attend. Hull says, “It’s really cool to have the volunteers, the fans, and the spectators come out. And people who have never seen adaptive sports before get to now be involved, as a volunteer, a spectator, and it really changes them as well.”
Hull’s advice to newly injured veterans is to make sure they push outside of themselves and become active participants in their own lives. As a mentor to hospital patients, Hull says he gives the same advice to everyone he mentors:
- Find a way to get involved in your community, whether it’s through sports, or volunteer, or peer mentor -- just getting out there and doing something.
- Find something to strengthen your body because it’s so important -- for all of us -- to have that recreation part of our lives fulfilled.
- No matter what level you’re doing it, just come out and do it.