Motivation Monday – Meet Brett Sloan

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I remember falling off the bike; I remember seeing my tibia poking through my skin.  I remember pulling my ankle away from my knee as my calf tried to contract and force the tibia out further. I remember the bumpy ambulance ride to the remote clinic in Northern Greece where I was on temporary duty as a flight surgeon. I remember lying in the middle of an aisle on a commuter boat to the mainland filled with chickens, goats, and people speaking Greek.   I remember waiting for the Air Evac on the tarmac.  I remember the Air Evac nurse sent from heaven with a syringe full of morphine.  I remember waking up at Landstuhl with my leg in an external fixator.   Despite the years that have gone by I remember everything – sounds, smells, sites – everything!

While my leg was still trying to heal, I stayed on active duty and went back for additional training.  I found it very difficult to exercise due to chronic leg pain and depression.  Over the next several years despite countless surgeries at Landstuhl, Aviano, and Wilford Hall trying to salvage my leg (at least 15), my leg succumbed to a highly resistant infection.  Along with my doctors, family, friends and lots of soul searching, the decision was made to amputate the leg.   After numerous deployments all over southwest Asia and Europe over my 12 great years of active duty and 4 years of reserve service, I separated from the Air Force and tried to assimilate into the civilian world.  I missed the structure and camaraderie of the service and missed feeling part of a mission bigger than myself.  Taking a job working with vets at the VA helped fill this void, but I still felt disconnected from the community.

After witnessing the tremendous adversity many vets have overcome, I decided to try and get back into physical shape.   Still with a lot of “pins and needles “on my stump and occasionally phantom pains, I started mountain biking.  Soon after, the endorphin release started overpowering the fear of falling and leg discomfort.  When the dreary New England weather set in, I found comfort in the pool.  My leg and a half felt like dead weight – but after being on my foot and stump all day, taking the leg off and swimming a few thousand yards felt great. As the weather started getting nice, the VA issued me my “Cheetah.”  It was awkward learning to run again and very uncomfortable – feeling like I was hitting my funny bone every time my blade hit the ground.   This slowly dulled as my pace increased.   Through the local Y, I joined a TriClub and have been competing in monthly indoor sprints.  The depression has lifted and the pain has significantly subsided, and though I still remember every gruesome detail of that sunny Greek day, I no longer look back or feel the least bit sorry for myself.  I have always been a very private person and was very reluctant to share my story, but if it can help anyone, in any way, I’d be an open book.

By pure chance, looking to set my summer Tri schedule, I stumbled upon the Team RWB website.   I was immediately drawn to the mission.  The enthusiasm and positive energy exuded by everyone at Team RWB has helped me out of my comfort zone and is connecting me with my community. Physical and emotional rehabilitation through exercise has definitely worked in my favor and the idea of utilizing local communities to promote this mission to our veterans sounded like something I wanted to be part of.