'I'm still out there'
October 4, 2012
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- Will Silva reached the top of his tennis game while growing up in Texas.
He dedicated hours of training at an academy and played his way into the state tournament in high school. But it's been nearly a decade since the Joint Base Lewis-McChord fire prevention officer picked up a racket. He knows when he does, tennis won't be as it was.
Silva lost his left leg in an accident in 2003. The then firefighter at Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base in Fort Worth, Texas, was off duty when a truck hit him while at a complete stop on his motorcycle.
But the accident has not defined him; rather it has opened doors to experiences unknown to him before the accident. The 33-year-old embraces his opportunities and participates in a variety of sports he never tried before his amputation, including golf, snowboarding, hiking, sky diving, wake boarding and softball for the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team.
This fall for the first time, Silva is playing flag football with the Lewis-McChord Fire Department team.
"I haven't played tennis since I lost my leg, so I started doing all these other things," Silva said. "I'm not good at it and it's worse that I'm slow. I can't move like other people do, but I'm still out there."
Silva has been busy studying his first playbook and learning about audibles. He committed to the team and knows he'll see as much playing time as possible.
"If a guy jukes me, he's going to get around me," Silva said. "This leg doesn't do that. I'm ready to go in, just in case."
At Silva's first flag football game he stood on the sideline for the first half. When the majority of his teammates and fellow firefighters answered an emergency call, Silva took the field in the third quarter.
"Dad, look at his foot," a young boy said from the bleachers.
"You know what, he's not giving up and that's pretty cool," the father said to his son.
Playing flag football is just one example of Silva's positive, competitive spirit. Since he has worked at JBLM, Silva has tried a variety of new sports, and he has a special leg for almost every sport he plays. Silva has volunteered with Seattle VA's gait laboratory the past three years, where he has been a part of more than a dozen studies trying to make a better foot for amputees. His active lifestyle really puts some of the prototypes to the test.
Silva will try anything once and so far he's enjoyed everything except rock wall climbing.
"When somebody asks if I want to try it, I'll try it," he said. "Before I was like, 'this is what I do and I'm good at it and I'm going to keep doing it.' Now I'm mediocre at almost everything."
Before Silva went into surgery to have his foot removed he was already talking about going back to work as a firefighter. Then he was told he couldn't go back. He was told it would be about nine months until he could function normally on his prosthetic leg after months of rehab.
He didn't go. Instead three months after the accident Silva ran and finished a 10K race. His sutures reopened and he was sick afterward, but Silva was determined to recover on his own terms.
Nearly 10 years later Silva continues to physically challenge himself. Along with three JBLM firefighters, Silva competed in the Spartan Race in Washougal, Wash., this summer. The four-mile course included 16 obstacles and a lot of mud. He showed his sense of humor by competing in a grass skirt and coconut bra. He quickly learned it wasn't the wisest choice when one of the obstacles required climbing under barbed wire.
During a rope climb, Silva's prosthetic leg fell off. He still made it to the top and finished in 579th place in just over two hours.
"People have told me it'd be easier if you just sit this one out," Silva said. "It's not in a rude way. I'll try and I hurt myself or it just doesn't happen correctly or I can't do it, but I'll give it a pretty good effort."
Next up for Silva is tackling mountain biking on Crystal Mountain and a friend wants to pick up tennis. Silva said he'd like to start playing again, along with whatever else life presents.
"I still am (competitive)," Silva said. "I just know that I'm probably not going to win most of the time."