Army amputee runs on inspiration
February 11, 2011
WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 11, 2011) -- Johnathan Holsey is a runner.
The warrant officer stationed at Fort Gilliem, Ga., keeps fit for military duty -- often logging two to three miles per day, but with one caveat; Holsey has a prosthetic leg.
Assigned to the 3rd Military Police Group as a human resources technician, the 14-year Army veteran hasn't let his injury hold him back. Contrarily, he said being injured has spurred him to do things he never attempted before -- like running a half-marathon.
"When I first got injured, I thought if I could ever run again, I'd give it my all," he said.
Holsey's Army career began in 1992 when he joined as an Armor Crewman, and has been stationed in Georgia, South Korea, Florida and Washington, D.C. He changed his military occupation after a few years and became an administrative specialist, which is what he deployed as in 2004.
While serving in Iraq as a staff sergeant providing personnel support to the 2nd Infantry Division, Holsey was swiftly initiated into the infantry lifestyle with near-daily convoys. Holsey explained that his unit was re-locating to another Forward Operating Base, and troops and supplies were shuffled constantly.
Holsey said he wasn't very worried about riding in convoys, because "you never really think you might get hit."
But on Nov. 10, 2004, when Holsey was headed out on another routine trip, what he didn't expect happened.
"That whole day is a blur," he said of being hit. "I never remember anything I did that day."
Pieced together from the memories of other Soldiers who were there, Holsey only knows what happened second-hand. He doesn't remember his vehicle lurching in the blast from an improvised explosive device, and he doesn't remember how he managed to get out.
Holsey said he lost consciousness until he arrived at a clinic on a Marine base.
"The one thing I do remember is that I almost rode in a different vehicle that day. I was supposed to switch, but I went back. I always think about that," he said.
Holsey was medically evacuated to Germany, and then flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington, D.C.
When he first arrived at Walter Reed, Holsey's left leg was reinforced with metal pins, and he endured "wash out" surgeries every two days to prevent infection. Finally, Holsey's doctor told him that amputation might be his best option, and the next day he went into surgery.
Told later by his ex-wife and stepsons that he reacted more emotionally than he remembers at the news he'd lose his leg, Holsey said he's at peace with his decision now.
"I think I've learned to accept it," Holsey said of his injury. "I think some of the things I've accomplished I wouldn't have if I wasn't injured."
Throughout his year of recovery, he said at times he felt as though he wasn't making progress, but within only two months he was fitted for a prosthetic and walking again.
In 2008 Holsey ran his first Army 10-Miler with Walter Reed's "Missing Parts in Action" wounded warrior group where he met Sue Bozgoz, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and running coach.
Bozgoz, who's helped hundreds of other runners throughout her Army career and now coaches full-time, said Holsey was the first wounded Soldier she trained.
"I realized that there's a lot of need to inspire wounded warriors," Bozgoz explained, noting she coaches because she loves seeing someone finish what they started.
Bozgoz and Holsey kept in touch via e-mail and phone, with Bozgoz providing a training schedule and new distances and times to aspire to. One of Bozgoz's colleagues, retired Capt. Millie Daniels, would also meet Holsey at a track two to three times per week to help him train.
Bozgoz, who's completed 52 marathons, is now also an agent for world-class runners who run in support of wounded warriors during races around the country.
"The goal is to inspire more people to run," she said.
Since 2008, Holsey has run in each consecutive Army 10-Miler, a few half-marathons and the last 10 miles of the Marine Corps Marathon.
Interestingly, Holsey said he wasn't really a runner prior to his injury, but he pushes himself harder now, just to see what he's capable of.
In keeping with that theme, in 2009 Holsey applied for Warrant Officer School, and became the first amputee in the Army to graduate. He said the instructors at the school showed him no favoritism because of his injury -- the school was all-around challenging.
"I think I was physically prepared for it, but I'm not sure I was mentally prepared for it," he said.
Even at his current duty station, Holsey said most of his peers didn't know he was injured until them saw him in shorts. But now when they see him running or working out, many of them are inspired to work harder.
Although Holsey inspires others -- he receives constant e-mails from people he doesn't even know to offer him support -- he said, "it's the people around me who make me stay positive."
He said before he was wounded, he'd never met an amputee, but now feels as though other wounded warriors are who he relates to best.
"Sometimes I think we have to see each other out there," he said of seeing other wounded warriors at challenging events. "To me, it makes me realize I can still do it."
Holsey's advice to other wounded Soldiers is to find someone to relate to and talk to them -- it's important to let feelings and frustrations out, he said.
"I think you just don't give up," he said. "Don't allow your limitations to be my limitations."
Holsey plans on staying in the Army until he retires, and he has his injury in part to thank for his decision.
"Because of the opportunities they've given us as wounded warriors, it's important for me to stay and help pave the way for others."