October 6, 2010
We're on our way into the Khumbu now. So far, the expedition has been running relatively smoothly. Which isn't to say there haven't been problems but you always have to expect problems on any complicated mission. While we are trekking into Base Camp, I'd like to introduce you to some of our soldier heroes.
Since I am blind, I of course share a special connection with 24-year-olde Steve Baskis. But while I lost my vision gradually at an early age, Steve lost his sight literally in the blink of an eye.
Since he was little, Steve Baskis had wanted to serve in the military like his father, grandfather, and many other family members. In January 2007, he enlisted in the Army with the goal of starting as an infantryman and eventually becoming a Green Beret. Steve graduated with honors from Fort Benning and earned a meritorious promotion. Soon after he was stationed with the 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas. By the end of 2007, Steve and his platoon were in Iraq and tasked to protect a General.
Only 8 months into his deployment, on May 13, 2008, everything changed for Steve. His squad was attacked while on combat patrol and a sophisticated roadside bomb sent a projectile through his thickly armored vehicle, killing his friend and severely wounding Steve. A week later, he woke up in Walter Reed Medical Hospital, groggy and disoriented, where a doctor told him, “You are blind and will most likely be blind for the rest of your life.”
Over the next six weeks, Steve would undergo over a dozen surgeries to remove shrapnel and repair the damage that included a fractured nose, fractured eye orbits, fractured skull, and 3rd degree burns. A severed artery and a number of severed nerves disabled his right leg and left arm. According to his squad, Steve’s body armor was destroyed in the blast. He now reflects, “I am truly blessed and fortunate to be alive, especially with all of my limbs. There was a chance they were going to amputate my left arm, but it got better.”
Steve amazed his doctors with the speed of his recovery and his attitude. What bothered him most wasn’t his own injuries but the loss of his friend and being separated from his squad. Nonetheless, he was unsure of his future until he learned about blind rehabilitation that would teach him the necessary skills to live life independently.
As soon as his doctors permitted, Steve transferred to Hines VA Blind Rehabilitation Center in Chicago, Illinois. For the next four months, he learned how to get around without vision and how to use electronics (computer, iPhone, GPS, etc.). He says now, “It was hard and frustrating, but I pushed through all of the courses and soaked up all of the information I could remember.” Steve also credits his wife, Sarah, for the speed of his rehab, “Without her I probably wouldn't be doing this well 2 years after being seriously injured.”
As an admitted “adrenaline junkie,” Steve soon began researching sports that would help him get back in shape. In July 2009, he was invited to compete as a cyclist in the State Games of America national event held in Colorado Springs. Says Steve, “I had never rode on a tandem and had second thoughts on allowing someone else to pilot me around at speeds over 40 mph, but that faded away fast. I raced and completely fell in love with cycling again!”
Only a few months later, he competed in a half Ironman in Augusta, Georgia. “The race was grueling and pushed me to the limit,” he recalls, “But I did not give up and I forced myself across the finish line.” And a few weeks after that, he attempted the Chicago Marathon, reluctantly dropping out half way through, in part due to pain in his injured leg.
Steve rebounded the next month by climbing the third highest volcano in Mexico with a team sponsored by Global Explorers including blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer. At 17,126 feet, Ixta (Ixtaccíhuatl) is also the seventh highest peak in North America and a true challenge. Despite losing sensation in his injured left arm, Steve soldiered on and reached the summit on Veterans Day.
At present, Steve is in a transitional period and expects to medically retire from the Army in June. But he isn’t slowing down! In addition to training for the Lobuche expedition, Steve is working at joining the national Paralympic cycling team with the goal of entering the London 2012 games and bringing home a medal.
In the long run, Steve plans to earn a bachelor’s degree. Beyond that, he wants to start an organization that will allow other disabled individuals a chance to enjoy something they use to do or want to do.
He feels he has a new mission now, “Everything I have done and everything that I will do that seems to spark the interest of the media, I hope will inspire others. I do not find my injury as severe as some would say it is. I am lucky that I have the ability to think, experience life and most of all spend more time with my family and friends. There is always something you can do and it is up to you to find that internal drive to move forward. Never dwell on the negative, drive forward as fast and as hard as you can. If you are capable of that, there is nothing that will hold you back.”
Here are Steve's impressions of the chaotic street life of Kathmandu, the capital of Nepal.
If you'd like to send a message of encouragement to Steve, please visit his web page here and leave a comment: http://soldierstothesummit.org/2010/steve-baskis/