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 “My life can serve as an example of being strong, positive, and never surrendering the fighting spirit.”

Veterans in combat can come away with any number of illnesses and injuries, both mental and physical. While serving in Operation Desert Storm, Army Veteran Michael had many experiences that continue to impact him today. 

Throughout his career, Michael sought out high-pressure, physically and mentally demanding roles: a police officer, a soldier, and a correctional officer. His challenging work kept him busy, engaged and in shape, but took its toll on his mental health at times. 

“I didn’t find Snow White in every shift I ever worked,” Michael said. “More times than not, people don’t like cops. More times than not, if I pulled you over, it wasn’t because you were late for church. You may have been driving drunk. So I didn’t meet the nicest people.” 

When Michael was injured in an ATV accident while celebrating the 4th of July with his family in 2013, he was paralyzed from the chest down. Overnight, the injury turned Michael’s life upside down and required him to spend 10 months in hospitals and rehabilitation facilities before he could return home. 

“My rehabilitation was a long and hard one. I basically needed to learn the basics over again — drinking, eating, and talking,” Michael said.  

The sudden drop-off in physical activity led Michael to gain weight quickly, eventually reaching 330 pounds — “but I felt like I weighed 500,” Michael said. 

Michael’s injury, limited movement, rapid weight gain, and mental health issues all made Michael feel isolated. The anxiety he felt about navigating his new life and caring for his family exacerbated his PTSD symptoms. 

“I had zero esteem, I had anger,” Michael said. 

During Michael’s recovery, he got connected with PVA’s Mountain States Chapter based in Aurora, Colorado. Through PVA, Michael discovered hand cycling three years ago. In the year that followed, Michael lost 120 pounds and found a better way to cope with the stress and effects of his PTSD. 

“Whenever I’m out there on that hand-cycle, I’m able to project the anger or the sadness or the confusion, project it into angry-good energy. You got it all out, whatever was in there,” Michael said.  

“When I get back off that bike, I’m a fresh, clean guy. I know that tomorrow when I get up, it’s going to be dirty, but I know that for at least this little bit of time, it’s clean. It’s the only thing that I have found other than reaching out to other Veterans that really helps my PTSD.” 

With more strength, better physical health, and some relief from his anxiety and PTSD symptoms, Michael is better equipped to be a father and a friend. Now, Michael has strong friendships with many Veterans that hold him accountable and give him opportunities to give back to his community. 

“I want to help advance awareness of [the Paralyzed Veterans of America] and the people it serves ... I want big companies and people with financial and political influence to take a chance on us, invest in us,” Michael said. 

 At the very least, however, Michael wants to serve as an example for other paralyzed Veterans. 

 “My life can serve as an example of being strong, positive, and never surrendering the fighting spirit.” 


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