Health

‘What Wakes Me Up Each Morning Is Thankfulness to Be Alive’

After this Army sergeant nearly died in Iraq, he vowed to live as never before — look what he's done

Adaptive sports saved one man’s life.

U.S. Army Sgt. Ryan Major says these athletic endeavors saved him from a deep depression and from some of the darkest corners of his mind after an explosion during a mission in Iraq. They gave him his life back.

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A former all-around athlete and high school football player, Major, from Towson, Maryland, was 10 months into his first deployment in 2006 when he stepped on a roadside bomb.

Nine soldiers were injured. Ryan took the brunt of the explosion.

“I was injured in the early morning around 2 a.m.,” Major told LifeZette. “I remember going on a raid mission, leading my team to an objective. A few blocks from the objective is when the [bomb] went off. I was awake for the entire period until I got to Camp Ramadi. I remember getting unloaded — I don’t remember anything else. I woke up at Walter Reed four days later.”

“Never give up. Always strive to be the best at what you do and what you love,” said Major.

Major sustained severe head trauma, lost both his legs, and lost the tips of several fingers. His injuries required limb amputations and reconstructive surgery on his hands.

For several years, he received treatment at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, the National Rehabilitation Network (shock and trauma), and the University of Maryland Rehabilitation & Orthopedic Institute. Major continued beyond all of that with an outpatient program.

It was during his time at the latter facility that Major discovered the Maryland Mayhem, the facility’s competitive touring wheelchair rugby team. He has just wrapped up his second season with the team — and was team captain.

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In last year’s Invictus Games, the first competition of its kind for wounded and injured military service members — athletes from 14 countries participated in 10 sports — Major represented Team USA in indoor rowing, cycling, power lifting, and wheelchair rugby competitions. He brought home a gold in seated shot put, a gold in wheelchair rugby, a silver in indoor rowing, and a silver in seated discus.

And now, at 32 years old, he’s gearing up for another season of competition.

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The word “Invictus” means “unconquered.” The games are meant to embody the fighting spirit of the wounded, ill, and injured service members — and what these men and women can achieve post-injury. For Major, the impressive list of accomplishments only continues to grow.

Since discovering adaptive sports, Major has been skiing, skydiving, snorkeling, marathon running — and he’s gone whitewater and flatwater kayaking, too. Being able to stay active, he says, is an incredibly important part of his life. It has been since the second grade.

“I thought I was an adrenaline junkie before, but it’s been even more so. All these things I had never done or thought I would be able to do before this happened to me,” Major said in an interview for the Games.

Related: One Veteran’s Plea: Let’s Return to Respecting Our Flag 

But the military taught him to strive to be better at his job every day, Major told LifeZette. “I carry that through my life to this day. I continue to strive to be my very best. What wakes me up each morning is thankfulness to be alive and to smile. I am a strong believer in being happy. Laughter is the best therapy for me and I strive to be positive.”

Do your best, he added, while understanding that everyone faces their own set of challenges. “Never give up. Always strive to be the best at what you do and what you love. If you do that, you can’t fail.”

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