On September 11, 2001, Bryan left his close-knit family in Chicago at the age of 20 to serve two
tours of duty in Iraq. Near the end of his second tour a
roadside bomb erupted while he was driving a Humvee at the back of
a convoy in Baghdad. Seven days
later Bryan woke up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland,
missing both legs and a hand. His mom was there; their
conversation helped determine the rest of his life: “You know you have
basically two options here, right Bryan?” Bryan nodded, “Yep, move forward – or roll over and die.” “And you’re going to?” … his mom asked. “Move forward,” he said.
his unit returned to the U.S. three months later, there was Bryan
dressed in his desert camouflage uniform, standing on his
prostheses and saluting, welcoming the soldiers back to America. Bryan took the same approach for the remainder of his year-long
recovery; he set high goals
and reached out for support.
past two years, Bryan has lived in Los Angeles with his cat and miniature
bulldog. He’s a busy guy: he works for a company that is designing a
motorized chair called the iLevel, which elevates the person to eye-level so
they’re no longer gazing at the rest of the world from below in their wheelchair. He also
travels widely, giving inspirational talks to wounded vets.
In 2007, he made an appearance in an
HBO documentary about Iraq War amputees, and then went
on to be featured in CSI: NY and American Sniper. No
matter what he is spending his time doing, he is able to live at full capacity,
using the talents and abilities he’s been blessed with, living everyday with
everything he has.
Many people often ask Bryan, “Aren’t you glad God saved
your life?” His
response? “God didn’t save my life.
God gave me exactly the life I was supposed to have. The great thing about having to relearn
how to use your entire body—and how to steel your soul to fill that body with
energy—is that you gain a wisdom about life that you couldn’t have gained any
other way. I take nothing for granted. No part of my body, mind or soul
goes unused. I’m a unique fit for the life God has given me. And that’s what I
tell wounded vets when I meet them. Their injuries, I say, are not
catastrophes. They are challenges to be overcome. And there is massive
fulfillment in overcoming.”
May Bryan’s story inspire all of us to look at our own lives
with a fresh perspective. We live in the most free nation in the
world. Each of us are incredibly blessed with so much: family, friends,
gifts, talents and challenges. Yes, challenges. May the challenges
we face inspire us to live like Bryan – with courage, with passion, with
greatness. And may we all help those we encounter become all that they
are capable of being. In that way we can best say thank you to God and to
those who have protected and defended this nation we love. Happy Fourth of July!