TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – On June 23rd, 2012, I was hit by a truck as I crossed the street in St. Louis, Missouri. A white pickup truck ran a red light, hit me and then rolled over top of me. It was a hit and run and the police were unable to identify the driver. The last thing I remember is seeing a flash of headlights out of the corner of my eye.
The truck broke both my hips and doctors had to perform emergency surgery to remove five inches of my large intestine due to massive internal bleeding. When I came through I was on a breathing machine in the intensive care unit at Barnes Jewish Hospital and my entire family was gathered around the bed. They drove through the night from South Dakota to be there because doctors didn’t know if I would live.
I opened my eyes the next day and saw my family and thought, “I’m alive.” Next, I wiggled my fingers and toes and ran through the St. Louis Cardinals lineup and realized that my spine and brain worked. I thought to myself, “Ok, I can do this.”
Exactly one year later I finished an Ironman in Nice, France. One of my best friends and the doctor that saved my life did the Ironman too. My mom and a friend who was with me the night I was hit jumped over the barrier and ran the last 100 yards of the race by my side. As I crossed the finish line, I was overwhelmed with feelings of love, accomplishment and good fortune.
I share this story because the accident reminded me of some valuable life lessons. First, life is short. Approach every day with vigor and enthusiasm. Whether it’s in the office, at home or elsewhere, show up with a positive attitude and a desire to make things better. You never know how long you have.
Second, resilience matters. I was able to recover from the accident because I worked hard at building my four pillars of resilience before I was hit. I was in a good place mentally and spiritually. Countless doctors and nurses commented that I was able to recover so quickly because I was in excellent physical shape. Finally, I had an incredibly supportive social network made up of family and friends who helped me every step of the way.
The third and most important lesson I took from the accident is to remember what really matters in life. Our profession and mission are critically important to our nation’s defense. However, our time in the Air Force is limited. When your time is up, ensure that your family is still there. Do your best to attend your kids’ baseball games and dance recitals. Don’t let problems at work bleed into your home life. And don’t pass up an opportunity to tell your spouse and family that you love them.