Like most, Travis Mills had plans.
Plans for his wife and daughter. Plans for the future. Plans for a successful military career. Then those plans were waylaid when he had a “normal day at work that turned ugly.”
He stepped on a bomb. And then, he couldn’t feel his arms or legs.
His third tour of duty in Afghanistan – thanks to an IED (improvised explosive device) – became his last. After 14 hours of surgery, the United States Army Staff Sergeant of the 82nd Airborne took up another battle – reclaiming his life.
As one of five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to overcome his injuries, Mills is special, but don’t feel sorry for him.
“I’m very thankful to be here,” Mills said. “So, if you guys see me, please do not pity me. Understand I am not a sob story. I’m just one guy who had a bad day at work – a case of the Mondays.”
Mills was recently awarded the Warriors Veteran of the Year Award during the Governor’s Fitness Awards (GFA) hosted by the Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF) at Cobo Hall.
The GFAs honor inspirational individuals and organizations for their pursuit, commitment and dedication to health and wellness. Additionally, it serves to encourage community involvement through teaching, role-modeling and volunteering.
Mills, a native of Vasser, Mich., recently cracked the New York Times Best Sellers list with his book, “Tough As They Come,” which recounts his journey from soldier to international motivational speaker.
“I’m very fortunate,” Mills told the crowd. “For those who have served and died overseas, I keep going. And I’m very thankful to still be alive.”
Mills talked proudly about driving his daughter for a birthday dinner, and how despite that bad day, his life is good.
“If I give up, I’m giving up on my family,” Mills said.
Mills’s commitment to family also is shared by MFF’s President and CEO J.J. Tighe, who has said his experience in the Army – as a captain and UH-60 Blackhawk pilot – helped him realize what was truly important to veterans when they return home – a commitment to family, country and community.
Health is a major part of that.
Tighe runs daily and plays hockey in the Michigan Warriors Hockey league, which serves as a bonding opportunity for Purple Heart recipients to play and stay active together.
Katy Stone, this year’s People Choice Award winner, shares a similar focus when it comes to staying fit and keeping ties with fellow veterans.
Stone served in the Army as a flight specialist. When faced with the choice between going to college and enlisting in the Army, she chose the former.
“I just felt called to serve my country,” Stone said.
After she got out of the Army, she found herself overweight and unhealthy. This made her want to “pause and redo” her life, which meant getting out and becoming physically engaged. She joined Team Red, White and Blue (RWB), where she serves as the director in Lansing. RWB’s focus is to connect veterans by providing physical and social activity.
Stone has totally nailed that one.
“I’m 42, and I’ve run faster than I have in years,” she said.
It’s not simply a personal goal. She wants to spread her “super power” to everyone. The message is simple. You can be in your 40s and run an amazing race, she says, swim in the scary water, and get over it.
“I want everyone to feel that euphoria you get when you’re just moving your body and eating clean, eating healthy,” Stone said. “I would not be here if my husband hadn’t encouraged me to step out of my box. Just move. Do something. Have fun.”
— Lead photo: L-R: Congresswoman Debbie Dingell, Lt. Governor Brian Calley, Travis Mills, Brigadier General Paul Kennedy, and MFF President CEO J.J.Tighe.