It was the day before Valentine’s Day in 2002. Recently enlisted in the Army, Chris Hull and a buddy were headed home before they deployed, when his friend fell asleep at the wheel and they crashed.  The accident caused Chris to suffer a traumatic brain injury, and he broke eleven bones.

He was 16 years old.

Chris says he finished high school early, and his dad gave him three options: go to college, get a job, or join the military. “I was really kind of tired of school, so military sounded like a great option to me.” He was also lured by bonuses the Army was offering, and the motivation post-9/11.

After the accident, Chris had to endure multiple surgeries, illnesses, and infections, which sapped his spirit. It was a long seven months of inpatient therapy and rehab. So in order to perservere, Chris decided to treat it like a job. “It’s a long process. It’s not necessarily a hard process, but it’s like anything else if you treat it like going to work. That makes things much easier.”

Chris credits the staff at the Tampa VA for their dedication and talent. “I’m just really thankful for all of the therapists and people there at the VA who worked really hard to get me back into fighting shape,” Chris says.

Regardless of the great people he encountered during his recovery, Chris still found that he was sad and feeling sorry for himself. That’s when his VA roommate called him and told him about an adaptive sports program that was starting in Jacksonville. Chris took the opportunity to go up there one afternoon for practice and fell in love with wheelchair rugby instantly.

This was it: he had found a sense of purpose, and something to get him out of his head and away from his traumatic ordeal. “I spent three hours with those guys and decided that was going to be the thing I was going to do. I moved up to Jacksonville four months later and it’s been wheelchair rugby ever since.” He says the Games have given him a goal to work towards, and he’s a better person because of it.

Chris now shares the lessons he has learned with others as he mentors newly injured veterans, by encouraging them to push boundaries and become active participants in their lives through three simple steps:

  1. Find a way to get involved in the community, whether through sports, volunteering, or peer mentoring;
  2. Find something to strengthen your body;
  3. Just come out and do it, no matter what level you are at.

Chris is now an active member of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games and its large, extended family of veterans and supporters. He is always very excited to participate, because veterans have the chance every year to catch up with each other and compete. But he is also grateful to have the volunteers, fans, and spectators share in the excitement as well.

“People who have never seen adaptive sports before get to be involved, and it changes them,” he says.