By Annette Gomes, Warrior Care and TransitionMay 31, 2018
Billy Demby: A second chance at life
By Annette. P. Gomes, Warrior Care and Transition
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - "It was a very difficult time for me, sports was my life until I got hurt. The accident nearly killed my soul."
For 10 years, retired U.S. Army Pfc. Billy Demby said he was headed on a fast train to nowhere.
In 1971, while stationed in Vietnam, a B-40 rocket hit the truck Demby was riding in. He lost both legs as a result of the explosion. He recovered at what was then Walter Reed Military Hospital in Washington, D.C.
"I spent a year at Walter Reed. I realized I was lucky because I came back home. Many of my battle buddies were subjected to unwanted criticism and often times name calling. It was a different time back then. My war is not the war of today," Demby said.
Despite his faith, Demby's life began to take a dark turn.
"I began drinking early in the morning. Alcohol blocked out the memories of Vietnam. I had no family there in the area. Walter Reed became my sanctuary because no one there asks the question why. I was living a very lonely life. It became an endless cycle of drugs and alcohol," he said.
As fate would have it. Demby would reconnect with an old friend who would change his life forever.
"I patterned my life after a friend named Kenny Winchester. He was told all his life he couldn't do anything and he always proved them wrong. He saw me at the local bar and blatantly said you don't need alcohol to cope. He walked away from me. Those words stayed in my head," Demby said.
A short time later Demby returned to Washington, D.C., it was there he was granted another life line.
"I met Paul McDowell. He broke his back in a car accident in the 80's. He introduced me to the world of adaptive sports, wheelchair basketball in particular, and the rest as they say is history," Demby said.
"The activities that are available now are astonishing to me, skiing, sitting volleyball and wheelchair basketball. I was always an avid sportsman but I had to find a way to adjust to play the game I loved so much -basketball," he added.
Shortly after discovering adaptive sports, the Maryland native made another life changing decision. "I quit drugs and alcohol cold turkey. It was truly an awakening experience. I don't remember the exact moment it happened, but I realized there's got to be more to life than getting high," Demby said.
Now sober, Demby began to focus on his future. After playing wheelchair basketball for a number of years, he was approached to coach Team Marines in the wheelchair basketball competition at the 2015 Warrior Games at Quantico, Virginia. In 2018, Team Army invited Demby to coach once again at the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
"I know first-hand how the power of adaptive sports can support a Soldier's mental and physical recovery. Sports kept me alive and I want to help these Soldiers see what a positive life they can have no matter what setbacks their dealing with. I walk soft, but I carry a big stick. I don't want them to lose 10 years of life like I did," Demby said.
Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Chris McGinnis is a member of this year's Team Army wheelchair basketball team. He says Demby's message rings loud and clear with him and his fellow Soldiers.
"He has a wealth of knowledge and when you hear Bill's story it makes you want to give it your all. It's one thing to read a transcript about him, but to see and hear him up close and personal, and know what he's been through, there's nothing like it," McGinnis said.
"Kenny and Paul were two of my many angels who saved me. As the African Proverb states: "It takes a village, so now it's my time to give back and help others," Demby said.