Joey Avellone Hero Story

Joey AvelloneJoey Avellone was born into a military family: both of his grandfathers served in the Army during World War II, and his father is a Vietnam veteran. This background inspired him to join the service, with the hope that he would one day be able to go into politics.

Although Joey intended to join the Marine Corps right out of high school, a series of sports injuries prevented him from enlisting. Instead, he decided to pursue an associate’s degree in liberal arts and sciences at Southwestern Illinois College, and spent two years racing motocross professionally.

Finally, in 1999, Joey enlisted in the Marine Corps. After completing basic training in San Diego, he entered the School of Infantry because he wanted a more hands-on role than a different position might afford him.

“Infantry is where the action was,” Joey says of his decision.

Joey specialized in rescue swimming in the Marine Combat Water Survivor Swimming School. On April 1, 2001, he was accidentally paralyzed from the waist down during a training exercise in Hawaii. While his unit stopped at a pier, one of his fellow Marines fell over a fence and into the water. Joey did not hesitate to dive in after him, breaking his nose and three vertebrae in the process.

“I heard a pop in my neck and my body went limp,” Joey recalls.

Joey remained under water for about four minutes before he could be rescued. He credits his training as a rescue swimmer as playing a large part in his surviving the accident.

After spending a month at Tripler Army Medical center in Hawaii and six months in rehabilitation at the St. Louis VA Medical Center-Jefferson Barracks Division, Joey “left doing a lot better than I expected.” It was then that Joey became involved with Paralyzed Veterans of America, becoming a member and serving on the board of directors of the Gateway Chapter  (St. Louis) from 2003 to 2005.

Joey’s desire to go into public service lead him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in political science at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville. He graduated with honors in 2009, and soon after launched a campaign for state representative for the 113th district in Illinois.

In addition to being active in the community as a counselor for disabled veterans, Joey still finds time to compete in various sports competitions. A self-described “thrill-seeker,” he has skied at Aspen/Snowmass, participated in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, and played ice hockey. Although he admits that being paralyzed has introduced a new set of challenges, Joey is filled with an unflagging determination to succeed.

“I was a thrill-seeker before; [being paralyzed] hasn’t stopped me now,” Joey says.

In 2006, Joey became the first disabled veteran to be awarded “Marine of the Year.” In spite of all his accomplishments, Joey takes life one day at a time.

“You have to take the bad with the good,” he says.

by Kate Lu, a student at George Washington University and Paralyzed Veterans' intern.

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

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    Joey Avellone Hero Story