Lance Gieselmann had his sights set on the NFL. The college football lineman was pursuing a degree in sports medicine and thought he knew what path is like would take, until he saw a billboard of an Army tank and embraced the opportunity.
“I wanted to be all I could be and do something my family and friends could be proud of,” he said. He joined the Army at the age of 19 destined to be career military, leaving his football career behind, but excited about his new journey.
In April 2003 he was deployed to Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, which was assigned to guard a water-pumping station near Balad. Just six months into his tour, while on a routine supply run, Lance’s tank ran over an improvised explosive device (IED). He was ejected and thrown into a canal alongside the road. Of his three-man team, Lance was the sole survivor.
His injuries were severe. “I remember I tried to roll over and my leg wouldn’t go with me. I thought it was broken really bad,” he recalls.
But soon he learned the extent of the damage. Shrapnel had torn through his face, his heart and his torso, resulting in a head injury and a broken vertebrae that left him paralyzed from the chest down. His left leg had to be amputated above the knee.
After first wondering how his comrades Mike and Isaac were, his concerns turned to how he was going to provide for his family now that he was paralyzed.
After being stabilized he was flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, where he was told he would never walk again. “I was 23 years old and stubborn and said, ‘We’ll see.’ ” After two weeks at Walter Reed, Lance was transferred to a VA medical center in Memphis, where he learned how to walk with crutches and was fitted for a prosthesis.
But learned to live with incredible physical changes was not the only hurdle Lance needed to overcome. He also needed emotional support and help navigating benefits, so he could be sure his family was taken care of. That’s when PVA stepped in.
At the Memphis VA Lance met with Cliff Dupree, a senior national service officer with Paralyzed Veterans of America. “Cliff and several others from PVA would always be in my room; they ‘bombarded’ me with PVA—and I’m lucky that they did. They made sure I was taken care of before I even left the hospital. I don’t think I’d have been able to handle it without them.”
Cliff and other PVA members talked to Lance about their experience with paralysis, giving him encouragement and moral support. And now, Lance is looking to the future.
“I want to go to vocational schools and learn every skill I never did in life, like electrician, plumbing, carpentry, contracting, welding, mechanic, all things I wish I was good at.” And right now, he is coaching his children’s sports teams—football, basketball, baseball, gymnastics and cheerleading.
Lance lives every day by the words his high school coach told him: “Never shy away from a little hard work.” He says those words got him through a successful high school football career, basic training, Iraq, paralysis, amputation, and now, his new life.