TAMPA, Fla. -- Within a crowd of smiling race-goers donning "D" superhero shirts, you'll spot one walker with more drive and courage in his step than the rest. Wearing his superhero shirt and American flag accessories, Sgt. First Class Jeff Dawson, walked his way to victory on February 15, 2020, as he completed his first 5k since being injured in Afghanistan, with his family, friends and fellow soldiers by his side.
Dawson, an explosive ordnance disposal team leader, with the 28th Ordnance Company (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), 192nd Ordnance Battalion (EOD), 52nd Ordnance Group (EOD), took some significant steps towards recovery last week, over 3,500 steps to be exact, as he walked his way to the completion of one his many self-set recovery goals just seven months after being partially paralyzed.
"It felt great! It felt good, to get my heart going and the lungs going," Dawson said. "It's a great feeling."
In July 2019 Dawson was shot in combat and suffered nerve damage with some paralysis, which lead to him initially not being able to walk. After being injured, Dawson was transported to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he started his recovery before transferring to James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital in Tampa, Florida.
"He is standing unassisted, he has got braces in his shoes but if you did not know any better, you would not say this guy was shot seven months ago," said Lt. Col. Phil Murrell, Commander of the 192nd Ordnance Battalion (EOD), 52nd Ordnance Group (EOD).
Dawson's leadership and fellow soldiers can attest to the hard work and perseverance he has put in along his long road to recovery. Murrell has seen Dawson's progress first-hand during his many visits to Dawson at both recovery centers.
"It's going amazing, considering he was injured in July," said Murrell. "When I first saw him at Walter Reed, he couldn't feel anything other than a mild tingly sensation in his legs. He couldn't really raise his arms up and just sitting in his bed was painful. I saw him again in November and at that point he had moved to the facility here in Tampa and was walking assisted."
Murrell was just one of nearly 20 people who joined Dawson in his 5k goal to show their admiration and support. Members of Dawson's physical therapy team in Tampa also joined the 5k and say that Dawson's dedication and determination is the reason for his recovery.
"He is always finding a way to try and push himself," said Chris Kroger, one of Dawson's physical therapists at James A. Haley Veterans' Hospital. "It is one of those things where we have given him the tools but he has really pushed himself and he is the reason that he has progressed so fast and so far."
Dawson, on the other hand, is a humble hero and gives all the credit to his success in recovery to his expansive support system.
"Honestly I have a great support system and I have a fantastic medical staff that's been taking really great care of me and they've really helped push me to the point of actually being out here and doing this," said Dawson.
Dawson isn't stopping here. He'll continue to push himself as he's set another goal to complete his first 10k race at the Skyway 10k on March 1, 2020.