Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center
Veteran and triple amputee inspires fellow Vets
Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center’s Associate Director of Patient and Nursing Services Garett Schreier introduced motivational speaker and Army Veteran Bryan Anderson to Veterans, volunteers, visitors, and employees who packed the Main Auditorium the morning of Jan. 23. The standing room only crowd eagerly waited to hear Anderson’s story of overcoming extreme adversity after a tragic incident on his second deployment to Iraq.
“I am amazed at your independent lifestyle, outlook on life, and ability to tackle everyday tasks,” Schreier said to Anderson, a Purple Heart recipient and one of the few triple amputees to survive the war in Iraq. “We all have something to learn from you.”
Anderson’s life changed forever in Oct. 2005 when an Improvised Explosive Device detonated next to his vehicle on a routine trip to an Iraqi police station. The blast instantly severed both of Anderson’s legs and his left hand while shrapnel injured his comrades in the passenger seat and the gunner’s turret. While detailing the tragic event moment by moment, Anderson couldn’t help but joke that his buddy in the turret suffered the same famous injury as Tom Hanks in the movie, “Forrest Gump,” shrapnel to the buttocks. Anderson’s story, filled with both humor and humility, captivated the audience for more than an hour.
“My life has been pretty incredible ever since I got blown up—the first year was a little rough during rehab and all that,” said Anderson. “I’m not disabled, I might be a triple amputee, but I get to do anything and everything I want to do. And I get to help people!”
If you ask Anderson, he would tell you he lives an extraordinary life. He made a promise to live life to the fullest after being discharged from Walter Reed Army Hospital and he continues to make good on that promise. Anderson was featured on the cover of Esquire magazine, learned to snowboard, and loves to ride his 42-in. electric skateboard.
“My board can go 7 miles in one charge and has a top speed of 22 miles per hour,” Anderson said. “It’s just like snowboarding in that you can go fast but you can’t be afraid to fall.”
Anderson’s adventures in snowboarding started with challenges of balancing on his snowboard, on snow, with prosthetic legs incapable of bending. He’d need his brother, an identical twin, to help him up and balance before he would start down the mountain again. His determination led to him being able to stay upright longer and longer requiring assistance less and less. One day, he took a bad fall without injury, but also without help to get up. Anderson dug deep and remembered some gymnastics training he had prior to joining the Army. Using momentum and his positioning on the mountain, he executed a maneuver enabling him to get back on his board again. His story of triumph in that moment paralleled his story of suffering tragedy and refusing to succumb to limitations—that nothing can stop him.
On top of Anderson’s love of extreme sports, he also travels the country telling his story to people about overcoming adversity, is a spokesperson for three companies and took up acting. He appeared in the movie “American Sniper,” and television shows including “Hawaii Five-0,” “CSI: NY,” and “The Wire.” Anderson also made appearances on “Fox and Friends” and “60 Minutes.”
Schreier was right when he said people have a lot to learn from Anderson.
“I’m not going to let a moment of time define my life,” said Anderson. “You can’t control what happens to you—you can only control what you do after it happens.”
Wise words from a Veteran who jokes about a life-altering tragedy and who can inspire people to make the most of every moment.