Do not give up.
That’s the message SGT. Retired U.S. Army Erin M. Schaefer – a double amputee – wants to get across to all current soldiers, veterans, service men and women who have suffered life-changing injuries while on active military duty.
Schaefer’s life was altered forever on April 28, 2010 while on a logistical resupply convoy in the Paktika province of Afghanistan, where he was three-and-a-half months into his fourth deployment to the country.
“We were delivering supplies, equipment, and fuel to the next base over,” said the Everett, Wash. native and graduate of Kamiak High School in Mukilteo. “Half way into our route our vehicle was hit by an IED.”
That IED, or improvised explosive device, did the most damage to the passenger side of the convoy, where Schaefer was seated. The bones in his feet were fractured beyond repair and due to the severity of the explosion an amputation of both legs below the knee was deemed necessary.
“The rehab was a year,” said Schaefer. “It consisted of physical therapy and occupational therapy. The sessions focused on core strength exercises to get me back up walking, learning self-care needs, how to maneuver in a wheelchair, and reintegrate back into society with a disability.”
It was during that year-long rehab that Schaefer followed his own advice of “Do not give up.” He undertook several physical activities, including hand-cycling, tandem skydiving, and even tried skiing in a mono-ski.
“Due to the injury I gave a lot of activities a try,” said Schaefer. “I enjoyed hand-cycling because it brought me back to training with other service members in Warrior Transition Units.
“We were able to get out in the community and show people that veterans do not give up. That we learn to adapt and overcome things – we keep moving on.”
This Sunday, Schaefer – who now operates on two prosthetic legs – will add one more activity to his ever-growing list: leading the Seattle Seahawks out of the tunnel and on to the field prior to kickoff.
The opportunity is well-received by Schaefer, who grew up developing an interest in Seattle sports by collecting cards of players on local sports teams. He sees Sunday’s event as a great honor to show the many similarities between being a soldier and being an athlete.
“We as soldiers and veterans train and work hard every day,” he said. “We train with intensity and enjoy many accomplishments. We’ve had to overcome so many obstacles, but we keep on trucking.
“The Seahawks players must accomplish the same in a shorter period of time, but work as a team like we do in the Army.”
Schaefer credits his positive attitude and outlook to the Wounded Warrior Project, which has helped him get out and become involved in the community, volunteer, and connect with other veterans.
“Do not give up,” Schaefer said. “Be able to share your story. If you need help, seek it out. Don’t be ashamed or stubborn.”
Schaefer currently resides in Gresham, Ore. He and his wife April have four boys – Jaidyn Schaefer (age 10), Austin Charlton (age 14), Andrew Day-Schaefer (age 15), and Isaiah Jasperson (age 17).
But after Sunday, what challenge will Schaefer tackle next?
“Finding the next job or activity to do before I drive the wife crazy being around the house all the time now,” he said.