For Marine Corps veteran Joe Fox, learning he would never walk again as a result of a wound incurred in North Vietnam was a devastating proposition.
“It was devastating to be told I would never walk again,” Joe says. “Having been a football player and athlete, it devastated me, but it didn’t stop me.”
Joe’s life certainly echoes one that has not been bound by limitations, as he has served in numerous positions throughout Paralyzed Veterans of America, including four years as National President. And he chalks up much of his success to his involvement in sports, which really have instilled in him a personal mantra to “achieve, adapt and overcome,” even in the face of a life-changing disability.
Joe had dreamed of entering the Marine Corps after first seeing a poster of the Marine Corps uniform. In 1966, at just 17 years old, that dream came true, and after completing bootcamp at Camp Pendelton, Joe deployed to Vietnam. But in May of 1968, while fighting in the Battle of Dong Ha, Joe was shot in his arm and side, leaving with him an L1 and L2 spinal cord injury. He was medically discharged as a Sergeant in 1970.
After serving in various positions throughout Paralyzed Veterans of America, Joe became more involved in the adaptive sports program and discovered new passions for bowling and trapshooting. He helped launch the first trapshoot tournament for Paralyzed Veterans and now serves as chair of the American Wheelchair Bowling Association.
Trapshooting remains a favorite sport for Joe, in large part because both disabled and able-bodied shooters compete as equals, he says.
Joe also is an avid hunter and has worked with the Outdoor Recreation Heritage Fund program to host a black bear hunting trip to Alaska for Paralyzed Veterans members.
“It was a healing experience for those who had served our country and come back, and a lot of them were successful in harvesting a black bear,” Joe says. “The public doesn’t understand that you need something to give back to yourself after serving in such a devastating war.”
Joe also has competed in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, even medaling in events like the Slalom and bowling. “I participated in the Wheelchair Games for many years, but now I believe it’s time for the new guys to achieve, adapt and overcome,” he says. “I have done all of those three things through the help and tools Paralyzed Veterans has given me through their programs.”
And Joe hopes that his life serves as an example for veterans facing a new disability – that having a positive outlook and cultivating a passion like sports can often be the best form of rehabilitation.
“Paralyzed Veterans follows our veterans from the battlefield to the hospital and we continue to follow them throughout their lives,” Joe says. “And they are proof that anything is accomplishable in life; you have to have the will to do it, the fortitude and the strength within yourself. The ability to achieve, adapt and overcome in instilled in you in the military. All you have to do is try.”
Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and NextGov.com.