CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. - “Most of the time we're told what we can't do anymore or we're going to have trouble doing this or that. We're told that you shouldn't, you can't and you won't ... I loved running, and still do. It was my stress reliever, if I can't do that ...Then what is there left for me to do?” Corporal Gabriel R. Gehr.
Gehr, a Marine with Wounded Warrior Battalion West, Alpha Company and a Delphos, Ohio, native joined the Marine Corps May 20, 2012 as a generator engineer.
Standing at more than 6 feet tall and weighing around 170 pounds, Gabriel R. Gehr's love for sport began as a linebacker for his high school team. But as he progressed onto college, Gehr began devoting himself to a new passion – running.
March 9, 2015 - Corporal Gabriel R. Gehr, a Marine with Wounded Warrior Battalion West, Alpha Company and a Delphos, Ohio native joined the Marine Corps May 20, 2012, as a generator engineer. On November 20, 2013, exactly a year and six months after he joined, Gehr found himself in Afghanistan, fortifying a forward operating base against hostile forces. While trying to ensure the safety of everyone on the base, Gehr was hit by an anti-tank rocket, causing shrapnel to permanently embed into his left side and leg. In October 2014, Gehr unknowingly opened a door to discovering a new love ... at the 2015 Marine Corps Trials. (Image created by USA Patriotism! from U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. April Price)
“I wish I would have joined cross country to experience some long distance, but I have to say I love running 5ks,” said Gehr, “I would run every day, especially around the Del Mar. I remember putting on my headphones and just going until I couldn't anymore. Running gave me a sense of freedom, a sense of purpose."
Looking for a new challenge, the Delphos, Ohio, native joined the Marine Corps as a generator engineer on May 20, 2013. It was this decision that caused Gehr's life to change forever. On November 20, 2013, exactly a year and six months after he joined, Gehr found himself in Afghanistan, fortifying a forward operating base against hostile forces. While trying to ensure the safety of everyone on the base, Gehr was hit by an anti-tank rocket, causing shrapnel to permanently embed into his left side and leg.
“For the longest time, I felt broken and useless after the incident,” said Gehr. “I just wanted to do things on my own and help myself. It didn't help to have people feel sorry for me as if I couldn't do anything on my own, because after a while I started to believe that I wasn't able.”
When Gehr lost his ability to run, he said he also lost a part of himself. This was the most stressful moment in his life, but he couldn't even turn to his go-to stress relieving activity – running.
“It was like my life ended for me, I mean hey, it was pretty close to it being over literally, but to not be able to run after is what really made me depressed,” said Gehr. “I'm to a point where I can get around, but every time I try to run, even a little, the pain is too unbearable.”
Gehr was at a point in his life where he couldn't get through simple, everyday tasks without pain medication. He says that the thought of ever getting past his current condition seemed like a far-off dream.
“You know, I would wake up every morning, eat breakfast, take my medication, go to medical appointments and repeat day in and day out,” says Gehr. “I felt like a robot, that there was no hope for anything more.”
One day, he realized that his routine was getting old. He needed a change, and that change came just in time.
In October 2014, Gehr unknowingly opened a door to discovering a new love — at the 2015 Marine Corps Trials.
“I've heard about it before, but this is my first year attending. It's definitely a mood booster to have all of these events available,” said Gehr. “You never know how important it is to make a choice for yourself until it's taken away from you.”
Gehr decided to participate in wheelchair basketball, seated volleyball and his new favorite, swimming.
“I picked wheelchair basketball and volleyball because they seemed interesting,” said Gehr I knew I wouldn't have too much trouble making plays, so I solely focused on the team aspect of the sport. I would never have though that I would enjoy [swimming] the way I do now.”
According to Gehr he said he would not have chosen swimming to compete in, because it was not part of his everyday life.
“There's no other way to describe the feeling you get when you're in the water,” said Gehr. “It blocks out everything around you and you can solely just focus on yourself. When I'm in the water, it's as though I can put all of my everyday problems behind me or. It's just you, your lane and the water. Taking a chance to experience something beyond what you are used to can prove to be a difficult task, even to the bravest of souls. The thought of failure or not being good enough often clouds the mind, making the final decision to go for it, seem unreachable.
“I always tell my athletes, ‘You want to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Don't go back to what you use to do, you know you can do it and you can do it well, so try something else,' and it usually gets them in an opened mind set to try new things,” said Bobbie Brewer a swim coach from Cape Girardeau Missouri. ”In no way, shaped or form have I've ever been through what these athletes have, but I have experienced a life changing injury that makes you question yourself and your abilities afterward."
Gehr said he had his doubts about swimming at first, but gave it a chance anyway. Using the Marine Corps Trails offer to train for the events. He trained for swimming five months prior to coming out to Camp Pendleton, California.
“Swimming wasn't my strong suit, I was actually surprised how bad I was when I stepped in the pool for training, but I was determined to get better,” said Gehr. “Giving up definitely wasn't an option, especially since I've already signed myself up for it. To my surprise, the more time I spent in the water, the more I grew to love it. As my love grew for it, I became better at it.”
Each Marine is instilled with the Marine Corps values, honor, courage and commitment. It's been drilled into them since the very beginning of their basic training as recruits. Upholding the pride in these values carries out on and off duty.
“I have no former military background, so it's a new experience to deal with these Marines,” said Brewer. “The thing about the Marines is that they push. They want to push and we, as coaches, have to dial them down a bit. I wish I could take some of this perseverance back with me to some of my swimmers back home, but to see these people going on after what they've been through is definitely a blessing.”
The Marine Corps Trails aid to push both the Marines and athletes to showcase abilities they still have or never realize they had within themselves. It allows each Marine and athlete to be around their peers who have similar traits and build different relationships amongst one another.
“I'm grateful to be here at Marine Corps Trails 2015. It shows me that I am still capable of doing things. of doing anything. It doesn't matter if I win or lose, it's the experience and memories I take away that will stay with me through years to come.”
By U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. April Price
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