Rodney Anderson Hero Story | PVA
It took six months after his spinal cord injury, after 10 spinal cord surgeries, before Rodney Anderson was put in a wheelchair, and it will take death to break his spirit.
Rodney Anderson never let any situation bring him down. He just picked himself up, held his head high, and approached life with positivity and optimism.
Rodney was seeking new challenges and adventures when he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in September 1980. “I was a firefighter, and then did electrical work like my father, and I hunted, but I needed something new,” he said.
While serving, Rodney was responsible for inspecting F-16s, then he worked with flight control and flight recovery. He was able to travel to Korea to become an instructor on F-16s. Last, he worked as chief general of crews.
In August 1988, Rodney was launching an F-16 fighter jet when he was clipped in the head by the wing flap. “The pilot was removing his gloves and accidently bumped the flight control stick,” he recalled. “I didn’t duck fast or low enough to avoid the blow.”
He was rushed to the hospital where they patched him up and told him he had pulled a muscle in his neck. “I knew something was wrong,” he said. “I thought I was crazy but I just worked through the pain until I couldn’t bear it any longer.”
Rodney was in and out of the hospital and was prescribed pain medicine that caused severe damage to his spinal cord. In February of 1988, after several attempts by his physical therapist, Rodney was given an MRI, which revealed a tumor in his spine and broken neck. “They kept telling me I pulled a muscle, but if they would have found this earlier, I might have been OK.” As a result of the delayed diagnosis, he has been classified as a C56 incomplete quadriplegic. He was immediately air lifted to a VA medical center in Florida where he had the first of 10 surgeries.
“I was told you can never have perfect surgeries, there are always risks. My first surgery affected my breathing; I have about 30 percent lung capacity at the moment,” he said. “And a surgery in 1996 has permanently placed me in a wheelchair.”
During his recovery, Rodney was visited by Mitchell Hinkle, senior benefits advocate for Paralyzed Veterans of America in the Atlanta Service Office. “I can call Mitch up at anytime and he is always there to help. He has never slowed down since the day he rolled into my room,” he said. “Mitch was very instrumental in my recovery financially and personally. He advocated and secured special housing grants for me and introduced me to the wheelchair sports arena.”
Rodney began competing in wheelchair events starting with the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, competing in javelin, discus, shot put, and quad rugby. “I decided that rolling around had its advantages if I didn’t sit around feeling sorry for myself and waiting for things to happen.”
He was selected for the World Games in 1999 as part of Team USA and traveled to New Zealand winning a gold medal in javelin, and two silver medals for shot put and discus. He made the 2000 Paralympics team and traveled to Sydney, Australia, to compete.
Due to the physical demands of shot put, discus and javelin, Rodney has retired from paralympic competition and has placed his focus in other hobbies: hunting and bass fishing. Rodney completed the 2009 PVA Bass Tour in 8th place and is currently ranking in the top 10 competitors for the 2010 PVA Bass Tour.
Rodney also hunts turkeys. “Just last year I completed a Grand Slam. In order to obtain your slam, you have to harvest one of each subspecies of turkeys: Osceola, Eastern, Rio Grande, and Merriam’s. This is a feat in itself if you are able-bodied, but to take them in a wheelchair is very difficult,” he said. “I am very pleased I was able to accomplish this challenge.”
Despite several setbacks, such as reinjuring his neck, being dropped from a helicopter lift, and two divorces, Rodney has never let himself get down. “Post injury was like a roller coaster of events and emotions but I never let anything bother me or depress me. With great support I was able to pull through. I go by my personal motto: C.A.N.T.—complaining attitudes never triumph. I know that if I stick by that and Philippians 4:13, I will be ok.
“Honestly, I know I wouldn’t have the things I have or be where I am if it wasn’t for Paralyzed Veterans of America.”
Currently, Rodney is making strides to complete the Royal Slam in turkey hunting. Simultaneously, he keeps himself busy with bass tournaments and photographing historic places for a calendar project he and his wife, Glenda, are working on.
Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) is the only veterans service organization that represents servicemen and women who are paralyzed as a result of spinal cord injury or disease.
Paralyzed Veterans is a nonprofit organization and is financed solely through donations from generous and caring Americans.
To learn how you can help our paralyzed veterans, visit www.pva.org.