Miami Native Brett Parks Fights to Compete in Wounded Warrior Games UPDATE
U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist First Class Davis Anderson/Released
Update: Parks told New Times via email that he had officially made the Wounded Warrior Games in swimming, track and field, and seated volleyball. The games take place Sept. 30 - Oct. 4 in Colorado, but Parks will remain in Jacksonville to train until then, he says.
Original post: On October 17, 2012, Brett Parks -- a Naval Airman student stationed in Jacksonville studying to be a flight engineer -- heard a scream behind his local fitness center. As he approached, a woman yelled, "Robbery!"
Parks bolted after the robber and caught up to him. He tried to subdue him. Then he heard a gun blast.
"I was shot in the abdomen," he says. "And the bullet trajectory went down and it shredded my kidney, blew up a third of my colon, and severed my venae cavae, which is the major artery that allows blood flow to your leg. I was in a coma for 20 days, and when I woke up, I didn't have a kidney, I didn't have a third of my colon, and I didn't have the lower part of my right leg."
The robber was later captured. Parks' wife, Susan, was seven months pregnant with their daughter when he fell into a coma. His son was just 17 months old at the time.
U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist First Class Davis Anderson/Released)
"When I woke up, you know, everything changed, and I turned to my wife, and I said, 'Susan, do you still love me?' and she looked me right in the eye and she told me that she didn't marry me for my foot," he says.
Still, the consequences Parks faced nearly wrecked him.
"I felt like my body wanted to die every day and my mind wouldn't let it. I even was crying one day in my hospital bed, my mom was there, she asked what was the matter, and I told her straight up, 'My body wants to die, but my mind won't let it.' In total, I had about 23 surgeries in the first five months, and there was always another complication. I felt very hopeless for a number of months."
He'd spend about four months recovering, learning at one point to walk with a prosthetic leg. His caseworker from the Navy, though, kept suggesting something to help pick him up. Try the Navy Safe Harbor, she'd remind him over and over. The program supports vets who were injured in some way inside or outside of combat -- be it a lost limb, PTSD, a brain injury, etc. -- and gathers them to compete in a number of athletic events, like cycling, seated volleyball, swimming, track and field, and wheelchair basketball.