Vail Daily column: It takes all kinds
Fearing their students might suffer long-term emotional distress and mental anguish because Donald Trump was inaugurated, as the 45th president of the United States, college administrators across the country have created “safe spaces” on their campuses for students troubled by the election.
If rape, assault, robbery or other acts of violence are a campus concern, by all means address these matters immediately. But safe spaces because one candidate won an election and one lost — c’mon people, grow up, and that goes doubly for faculty and administrators.
Normally I wouldn’t waste my time on this topic. But last week I had the good fortune to meet a young man who was the epitome of courage, perseverance and commitment — and the comparison to these pampered college students could not be starker.
The young man I refer to is former Marine Staff Sgt. Thomas Charles “Charlie” Linville. I met Charlie at the fourth annual Evening of Inspiration held at the Beaver Creek Club and sponsored by Terri and Tom Grojean, Alexia and Jerry Jurschak and Mary and Paul Webster. Charlie was the guest speaker and the story he related that evening was nothing short of amazing.
Charlie was an explosive ordnance disposal technician serving in Afghanistan. His team of Marines had been looking for improvised explosive devices and came across an IED that blasted Charlie into the air inflicting multiple injuries.
It was the eighth such incident for Charlie. Miraculously he was unscathed through the first seven, but this blast caused severe injuries to his spine, hand, leg, foot and brain, not to mention his PTSD.
Road to recovery
After his ring finger was amputated, Charlie underwent 16 surgeries in an effort to save his right leg. His life was an unending cycle of operations, painkillers and rehab; literally speaking, Charlie’s life was defined by unremitting pain and agony.
While undergoing rehab at the Balboa Naval Hospital in San Diego, our ever-caring and efficient Veterans Administration appallingly refused to give Charlie a housing allowance, leaving him no choice but to pay for his own lodging while he was undergoing treatment as an out-patient — thank you Obama administration.
After two years in recovery Charlie participated in the Vail Veterans Program, founded by community leader and local humanitarian Cheryl Jensen. Charlie told me his participation in the program is what gave him hope.
Charlie had no idea what life had in store for him, but after coming to Vail he made the choice that his injuries weren’t going to define his life. He realized that his leg was holding him back, so after his 16 unsuccessful surgeries to repair his shredded right leg, he asked the doctors to remove it. Charlie said that amputating the leg was actually liberating and that instead of focusing on what he couldn’t do; he could now focus on what he could do. Charlie’s life changed drastically.
Two months later Charlie made the podium in a para-triathlon. So impressed with Charlie’s mettle, The Heroes Project asked him if he would consider climbing Mount Everest — yes, you read that correctly, that Mount Everest!
Man on a mission
Never having done mountain climbing previously, Charlie had an “uneasy feeling” about tackling Everest with a prosthetic device, so he worked eight hours a day for four years building his strength and stamina and acquiring the necessary mountaineering skills. (As a sidebar, crampons designed for a prosthetic leg aren’t sold on Amazon, so Charlie had to design and machine his own.) This was a young man on a mission.
The day before Charlie was to summit in 2014, an avalanche killed 16 Sherpa guides and the expedition was canceled. He fared no better in 2015 when an earthquake in Nepal caused an ice slide killing some 26 people at base camp; once again Charlie left Nepal without summiting.
The third time was the charm and Charlie finally summited Everest on May 19, 2016, becoming the first combat-wounded amputee to reach the top of the world. But after summiting, Charlie had another problem. When he left for Everest in March of that year he weighed 210 pounds. But after weeks of training and acclimation at base camp, he was down to 175 pounds.
Because of the significant weight loss, his prosthetic device no longer fit the amputated limb — a terrifying prospect when descending from 29,000 feet at 20 below zero. Charlie told me the descent was the most difficult and painful aspect of the entire expedition. The pain Charlie experienced while descending Everest was absolutely excruciating. But Charlie also knew he had no choice; endure or freeze to death at the top of Everest.
Conversations with Charlie are sprinkled with expressions such as, “It does no good to be mad at the world,” “I wasn’t going to allow my injuries to define my life” and “We have to own our own lives.”
When Charlie was going through his ordeal, he was about the same age as those college students who avoid mental anguish and emotional distress by seeking refuge in their warm and cozy safe spaces replete with stuffed animals and snack packs — yup, it sure does take all kinds
Quote of the day: “Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve” — Earl Nightingale.
Butch Mazzuca, of Edwards, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.