October 16, 2010
Check out this personal account of our Lobuche climb by former soldier Chad Butrick. This was written while the experience was still fresh and raw in his mind. After losing his leg, Chad was actually told that he should give up an active life. I think his post gives a sense of what all our soldiers are feeling now.
Chad served in the Army from 1996 to 1998, when he was injured in a training accident at Fort Irwin in California that lead to his discharge. Life was going pretty well until early one morning in September 2005 when a driver lost control, crashed into the guardrails, and blocked both lanes of the highway with his car. Moments later, Chad encountered the accident scene. Unable to avoid a collision, he plowed into the disabled car and then was hit from behind by a third car.
Amazingly, Chad survived and was airlifted to a local hospital where he underwent 7 hours of surgery. The worst injury was to his right leg from when he slammed on the brakes: the impact crushed his heel and both bones of the lower leg. After months of painful treatment and multiple surgeries, doctors concluded that amputation below the knee was the only option.
The rehab process proved to be exceedingly tough on Chad. As he puts it “I had people around me but I felt so alone. I was on drugs that were supposed to make me feel better but didn't. I could not drive and I was a mess. Dealing with the loss of a leg is harder than you think even when you are going through it.”
Chad faced many setbacks and little support from the medical establishment. One nurse even told him, “You need to get different hobbies.” She and many others bought into the theory that he would be a second class citizen. Chad says, “I was devastated when she uttered those words. Those were low days for me. I wanted to die. I thought about killing myself. I knew that my life was over.”
However, Chad persevered. Only four months after his amputation, Chad and his brother made an attempt to climb Mount Elbert, the tallest peak in Colorado (14,443 feet). They didn’t make it but, according to Chad, “that weekend was the beginning of a transformation for me. I knew what I had to do. I had to CHANGE MY LIFE. I had to make the choice to shift gears and travel down an unknown road. I recognized that I would summit, that life would move forward. I needed to face life with a different focus. To realize that despite the odds, this ‘disability’ was not going to define me. I was going to define it. For the first time I was going to truly take charge of my life. Own my choices and live life to the fullest.”
At the time of the crash, Chad was 250 pounds. By the time he got his prosthetic leg, he was just over 300 pounds. Over the past three years, he has lost over 100 pounds and embarked on a mission to climb all 54 of Colorado's peaks above 14,000 feet, solo. Currently, he only has nine 14ers left—then he wants to do them all again, in the winter.
After attending a clinic for disabled athletes in Ouray, Colorado, Chad has a new sport to pursue as well: ice climbing. But that weekend proved to be even more influential in a bigger aspect of his life. According to Chad, “I took away a passion to help others. When I saw the community of people come together to insure that no person with a disability is ever treated like a second class citizen, I knew what I had to do with my life. The climbing was, and always is, sweet. Breaking free of the resistance of my disability was more rewarding. Seeing others do the same was even more rewarding.”
That weekend in Ouray, Chad met another vet with a below the knee amputation, Chad Jukes. The two have now teamed up as climbing partners, jokingly calling themselves “The Hanging Chads,” to attempt an ice climb in Alaska and become the first “disabled team” to reach the top of a major route.
Prior to the expedition Butrick said, “The true reason we are doing this is because we want to help people. I never want a person with a disability to be told to get different hobbies. I want all of you to know that the sky is the limit. When we stop talking about what we can't do and start talking about what we can, the whole paradigm changes and there are no limits.”