Today my wife and I set out on a journey into the unknown. What began as just an idea has slowly solidified into a tangible reality. Four Letter Word is alive, no longer just scribblings on a white board in our kitchen but now a living, breathing organism that is constantly evolving to its environment. All journeys have to start somewhere; this is where our' begins...
On April 19, 2014 I will run the derby Marathon in Louisville, KY. My original goal for the race was to qualify for the prestigious Boston Marathon. In order to do this I will have to run 26.2 miles in just under 7 minutes per mile. All that changed three weeks ago when I underwent emergency surgery to repair a hernia that was causing me tremendous amount of pain. The day before my operation I spoke with the doctor and stressed the importance of being able to run the marathon in four weeks. The look on his face was priceless. He gave me a condescending pat on the back and informed me that I would be in no shape to run a marathon, much less a mile after surgery. A week and half after surgery I ran two miles and at two and half week mark I ran ten. Will I be able to reach my original goal of Boston Qualifying? Probably not, but what I've learned in the last three weeks is that my personal goals are insignificant next to our goal of spreading the message of Four Letter Word.
Four Letter Word represents a different approach to treating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). We don't offer medication or self pity. What we offer is one single goal that you choose on your own and must achieve on your own. The path to completing this goal will not be easy but nothing worth accomplishing ever is. In the same fashion that iron is forged into steel, each participant will be tested mentally and physically over and over again, hammering out the impurities, leaving behind a survivor capable of appreciating life again.
On April 19th I won't have any fancy sponsors on my shirt, just the two four letter words JOHN & TICO. SFC Johnny Walls was gunned down on November 2nd 2007 in a village in Afghanistan. While moving to recover his body I was shot through the left side of my face, shattering my jaw and cheekbone. Had that bullet been just a quarter inch to the right I probably wouldn't be writing you this letter. Today the scar across the left side of my face serves as a daily reminder that life is too precious to waste being unhappy.
On that same day I was air lifted to a larger military base for medical treatment. SFC Robert "Tico" Skelt and few others waited on the helicopter landing zone ready to transport me to the medical center. The only information Tico and the guys had at that time was that I had suffered a gunshot wound to the head. Fearing the worst, they prepped a stretcher to carry carry me off the helicopter. As the helicopter landed they moved out with the stretcher in tow, fully prepared to haul off the dead body of their friend. What they encountered was the exact opposite. As Tico remembers it, they came running up with the stretcher right as I jumped out of the helicopter like a crazed man covered in blood with what looked like a maxi pad wrapped around my head. I proceeded to curse at them for bringing the stretcher then walked over and jumped in the back of the ambulance. All I can recall of that moment was seeing Tico frozen, holding a stretcher in his hand starring at me like he had just seen a ghost.
Last time I saw Tico was right before he left for Afghanistan. He gave me the customary Tico bear hug and told me, "Man, I'm so glad you're alive!". Five months later, on February 14th 2014, I was told Tico died while conducting combat operations. On the day of his funeral I told his eldest son, whom I had never met, the story of how his father helped me when I was at my worst. I didn't even make it half way through before his son stopped me. He said he knew exactly who I was through the story his father had told him. At that moment I realized why that day always meant so much to Tico. What he saw coming off the helicopter in 2007 was not a ghost but a man that had been touched by death and somehow survived. Barely able to speak, I continued to tell his son how great of man his father was.
John and Tico are my Four Letter Words. They represent two chapters in my journey towards understanding my own personal demons. It is my privilege to keep their memory alive with this letter and my honor to carry their names across the finish line on April 19th 2014.
All donations received will go towards funding Four Letter Word's effort to help members of the Special Operations Community cope with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by participating in endurance type events. Together we will change the way military members, politicians, and the American people view PTSD. We are not victims to pity but instead survivors, remaining alive after an event in which others have died.
Last Saturday I crossed the finish line in 3 hours and 42 minutes. No, I didn't qualify for the Boston Marathon but I believe John and Tico would be proud of the effort I put forth. For a brief moment at the 24 mile marker it even felt like they were running with me. Anyone that has completed a marathon understands how tough those last miles can be. It is not uncommon to see racers dropping like flies with only few miles left to finish. You may have heard it referred to as "hitting the wall" or "bonking". This is what makes endurance events so interesting to me. For most people, those last few miles are the closest they will ever get to experiencing combat. Each runner is faced with the reality that if they continue on, they may seriously injure themselves. Some quit but others make the decision to put one foot in front of the other and drive on.
At the 24 mile marker the pain in my legs was so bad that I had to stop to stretch it out. All the aches and pains that I didn't notice while running came surging in at once. I could feel my motivation spiraling downward and thoughts of not finishing entered my mind. As I sat there stretching I looked down at the two names written on my shirt and thought to myself that Tico and John deserve better than this. I thought of the reason why we started this non-profit and why I was still alive when so many I knew had died. Out of nowhere, a spectator a little further up the road yelled, "come on four letter word you can do it!". I couldn't help but laugh because the first four letter word that popped into my head started with an F and ended with a K. That random person's comment was just enough to pull me out of the tailspin I was in. Instantly, I was up on my feet again; more determined than ever to carry John and Tico's name across that finish line. Pushing through those last couple of miles is what FLW is all about.
See you on the OBJ,
Chairman of the Board
Four Letter Word Inc.