Injured and invigorated
VAIL – “I’m gonna ski with two legs today,” said Capt. David Rozelle, who lost his right foot fighting in Iraq.”I’m tired. Too much dancing last night,” said the 32-year-old army captain who is heading back to Iraq next month and was in Vail last weekend skiing with other people with disabilities.Rozelle walks with a slight limp. It’s an irony that he is limping. Once he talks, there’s no sign of limp in his character or his convictions. On the contrary, the man without the foot is getting ready to go back to Iraq next month to command a cavalry of more than 200 men. He will be the first amputee to go back to war. It’s his choice, he said”I could have chosen to retire,” Rozelle said. “I chose not to because there’s nothing I rather do than serve my country.”Steel resolve
To those who know Rozelle, his decision to spend another six months in Iraq is no surprise. “I wasn’t that surprised because of his personality. He’s very loyal to his fellow soldiers,” said Ian Lawless of Denver-based Adaptive Adventures, who has worked with Rozelle to overcome his injury and help others. “But I was surprised because he suffered such a traumatic injury while he was there.”Since he lost his foot when his Humvee went over an anti-tank land mine in June 2003, Rozelle has skied about the same amount of days as locals here do. He has competed in several sprint triathlons, he did a one-mile ocean swim in a relay team for an Ironman, he ran a 10-mile race with other army amputees, and last fall he ran the New York City marathon.”I finished. It wasn’t a new record, but I completed it,” he said. “The biggest motivation for me has been to be physically fit enough to remain on active duty.”Rozelle has been living in nearby Fort Carson, with his wife and 18-month old son Forrest since he got back from Iraq. In June, he took command of another cavalry troop and has spent the last eight months training for war.”As a soldier, I’m concerned for my safety and that I come back alive, but I’m prepared for it,” he said. “I know what to expect and I know what it feels like.”I’m not afraid,” he added. “I’m smarter, I’m stronger. I’ve been in war before and I know what to expect. It’s a mental preparation I have to go through.”
Going back to IraqThough his visit to Iraq cost him a foot, Rozelle said he’s still eager to fight for the freedom of its people.”Whenever you go back to a combat situation, you expect the worst,” he said. “I would have never put this upon myself – to become an amputee. But I got injured and I made the best of it. I’ve gone on with my life and I bettered it. I’m stronger, I know how to set training goals.”Rozelle’s job with the army will continue when he gets back from Iraq. He’ll then become the director of the amputee center at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C., where most of the injured soldiers from Iraq are treated.”This job they’ve given me at Walter Reed is perfect for me because it allows me to do nothing but help soldiers and I love to take care of soldiers,” said Rozelle, who since his injury has been instrumental in getting other injured soldiers on the slopes or running. “It’s been my purpose to spend my free time and spare time with them.”I try to be an example of somebody who has overcome his injury and is going back to duty,” he added.In between training sessions and getting ready to go back to Iraq, Rozelle wrote a book about the American soldiers.
“I tried as hard as I could to represent the spirit of the American soldier, which is undefeatable,” he said. “These guys come back injured and they tell the media, ‘I’m ready to go back to serve with my brothers in arms in Iraq.’ It’s incredible.”After Rozelle finished this interview at the Golden Peak Lodge, Mark Brown, 46, of Denver, who overheard the conversation, stood up and shook his hand and thanked him.”When I see guys like that, I can’t imagine the courage that they have,” Brown said. “I’m proud of them. I love them.”To Rozelle it’s just setting an example.”Whether you’re overcoming a divorce or cancer or severe limb loss, you have to fight back,” he said. “Literally. I’m going to fight back, by doing all things I’ve done I’m trying to show people you can do it.”Staff Writer Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or email@example.com. Vail, Colorado