21 year-old Marine Corps Reservist veteran Lance Weir was canoeing near his hometown of Walnut Ridge, Arkansas when his hat fell off into the river. Going in to retrieve it, his head hit a submerged rock and shattered his C5 vertebrae, paralyzing him.
“The first few years after my injury were the worst,” Lance says. “I was angry, bitter and felt like I was dead, but somehow I was living. I’m from a small, rural town, so when I left the hospital and went home, there were no resources or opportunities. There was no light at the end of the tunnel at the time.”
But Lance’s outlook improved dramatically four years later when he traveled to Colorado to a rehabilitation center that specializes in spinal cord injuries. It was there that he learned how to drive an adapted van and learned about the opportunity for a service dog through Canine Companions for Independence. “That was a turning point in my life,” he says.
A few years later, Lance was paired up with a service dog – a black lab named Satine — and after completing his degree, he moved out of his family home in Arkansas to accept a position with Canine Companions in Oceanside, Calif.
Slowly his outlook began to improve.
Then in 2011, a fellow Marine asked him to compete in a trial at Camp Pendleton to build a 50-person team for the annual Warrior Games in Colorado Springs. Lance was skeptical at first, as he had not been active in sports in 17 years and was unaware of a sport he could do with his level of injury. But he discovered he had a natural skill and passion for the air rifle.
“Someone asked me to go to the shooting range one day, and we found we were able to adapt an air rifle so that I could compete,” Lance says. “It turned out it was something I was really good at. I qualified to make the team and actually won the competition at the Warrior Games.”
Lance has since taken first place in both the Marine Corps trials and Warrior Games for air rifles. He has completed the Challenged Athlete Foundation Million Dollar Challenge, a 620-mile bike ride from San Francisco to La Jolla, California, four times. He also completed the Silver State 508, a 508-mile bike race in Reno, Nevada.
Lance has not forgotten the individuals who have helped him along the way. He credits Nico Marcolongo of the Challenged Athletes Foundation’s Operation Rebound for purchasing his $4,000 rifle, as well as Canine Companions for providing him with Satine and now a black lab named Auggie, both dogs who have served not only as companions but also tools to live independently.
Lance helps coach the Marine Corps shooting team at the Wounded Warrior Battalion at Camp Pendleton, because he wants to give back to others. And he works as a Veteran’s Liaison for Canine Compansions for Independence.
Lance hopes his positive attitude and continued record of success will inspire others who are faced with similar life-changing circumstances. “Never lose hope,” he says. “As bad as things are, there are always people who are worse off. If you’re persistent, things will pay off. And don’t be afraid to ask for help or offer it.”