From Afghanistan to Aspen, USMC Veteran Ryan Garza pushes boundaries
A fourth tour in Afghanistan would change Marine Corps Veteran Ryan Garza’s life forever. It was on October 3, 2011, when an IED blast rocked the seven-ton truck he was riding in, badly injuring his leg. He spent more than a year at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia, receiving treatment for his shattered leg and traumatic brain injury.
Ryan Garza attends a fit clinic with his new snowboarding prothesis
As the years went by, Garza’s medical team worked to save the limb. However, by 2015, he and his doctors knew he would be better off without it. The made the decision to amputate and then selected the date of surgery: Friday the 13th.
“What better day to have your leg cut off,” Garza joked. “I was very anxious before the surgery, but I realized that pain had been destroying my life and I was becoming a violent dude and a bad alcoholic. Once I picked the date, I started pushing forward.”
Lost a buddy but saw hope in other Veteran’s eyes
Just five months later, Garza was climbing a 14,000-foot mountain in Colorado with No Barriers USA. But despite his resolve to bounce back, there was more pain to come.
“In 2016, I witnessed one of my Marine buddies take his life, and I took it hard,” Garza said. “The biggest thing that was holding me down was the guilt.”
On one Thanksgiving, Garza set something in motion he says saved his life. “I decided to give some food to the homeless, and I felt a weight lift off me,” he said. “I passed out more than 100 plates. Seeing hope in their eyes, giving back… that was my way to give back to myself.”
After that experience, Garza decided he would help other Veterans. He is finishing up a book, “Disturbed Earth, My Journey from Guilt to Forgiveness,” which he hopes to publish this year on October 3, what he calls his “stay alive” day. That’s the day that you should have died, but you are still here,” he said.
Asks his audiences: “What is your summit?”
Garza, who receives his care at the PFC Floyd K. Lindstrom VA Clinic in Colorado Springs, continues to push his mental and athletic boundaries. In March, he participated at the National Disabled Veteran’s Winter Sports Clinic in Aspen-Snowmass, Colorado. He viewed the event as another step toward regaining his life.
“I never did winter sports and always wanted to snowboard,” he said. “It was absolutely amazing,” Garza raved. “I’ve been nailing the blues without falling. I went from bunny hills in January to the blues today.”
Garza doesn’t put limitations on himself and, as a motivational speaker, he asks the same of his audiences. “What is your summit?”
By Donna J. Bell is the director of Communications for the VA Office of Community Care