Football hero changes course to join the military.
Lance Gieselmann was a college football lineman pursuing a degree in sports medicine with dreams of going to the NFL. But a combination of pride and finances sent Lance on a different path. He saw a billboard of an Army tank and within that Army tank he saw an opportunity of a lifetime.
“I wanted to be all I could be and do something my family and friends could be proud of,” he said. He joined the Army in May 1999 at the age of 19 destined to be career military.
A sudden explosion leads to a dramatically altered life.
He decided he wanted to be an armor crewman but started off as a loader on an M1A2 Abrams Tank with the Alpha Company, 4th Infantry Division Unit. In April 2003, he was deployed to Iraq with the 3rd Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, which was assigned to guard a water-pumping station near Balad.
Six months into his tour, while making a routine supply run, Lance’s tank ran over an improvised explosive device (IED)—he was ejected from the tank and landed in a canal alongside the road. Of the three-man team, Lance was the sole survivor.
I remember I tried to roll over and my leg wouldn’t go with me, I really thought it was broken really bad.
His injuries were severe, shrapnel had torn through his face, his heart and his torso, resulting in a head injury, a broken vertebrae and his left leg would have to be amputated above the knee. As a result of the explosion, Lance was paralyzed from the chest down. His initial thoughts after realizing the extent of his injuries were, first, where were his comrades Mike and Isaac, and, second, how was he going to provide for his family being paralyzed? It wasn’t until he was in recovery when his questions were answered.
Paralyzed Veterans stays close to Lance as he recovers.
After being stabilized he was flown to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, where he was told he would never walk again. “I was 23 years old and stubborn and said, ‘We’ll see.’ ” After two weeks at Walter Reed, Lance was transferred to a Veterans Affairs medical center in Memphis. During his time there he learned how to walk with crutches; then a few months later was fitted for a prosthesis. “Getting back to life wasn’t as easy as getting a prosthetic,” he said.
I don’t think I’d have been able to handle it without those guys [Paralyzed Veterans of America].
At the Memphis VA Lance met with Cliff Dupree a senior national service officer with Paralyzed Veterans of America. “Cliff and several others from PVA would always be in my room; they ‘bombarded’ me with PVA—and I’m lucky that they did. They made sure I was taken care of before I even left the hospital.”
Speaking with Cliff and others from Paralyzed Veterans of America about their life experiences being paralyzed and living with it gave Lance encouragement and moral support. “I don’t think I’d have been able to handle it without those guys.”
Learning from the past, looking to the future.
Currently, Lance is focusing on his future. “My future is endless; I want to go to vocational schools and learn every skill I never did in life, like electrician, plumbing, carpentry, contracting, welding, mechanic, all things I wish I was good at, but stink at.” At present, he is content to coach his children’s sports teams—football, basketball, baseball, gymnastics and cheerleading.
'Never shy away from a little hard work.' Those words got me through a successful high school football career, basic training, Iraq, paralysis, amputation and now my new life.
He lives every day by a saying from his high school coach, “Never shy away from a little hard work.” Those words got me through a successful high school football career, basic training, Iraq, paralysis, amputation and now my new life.”