By Steve Van Der Werff, U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery public affairs
Editor’s note: We conclude our series about disabled Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Shane Gilley, who exemplifies the warrior spirit and resiliency of our brother’s in arms. He has overcome his own personal adversity to become a shining example to those living with a disability.
Every time Gilley deployed with the Marines half way across the globe, he lived in extremely austere living conditions, facing multiple dangers – extreme heat, mortar attacks, snipers and improvised explosive devices. Remarkably, he returned home each time unscathed. An avid motorcycle enthusiast his entire adult life, whenever Gilley returned to the States, he couldn’t wait to hop on his bike “Marion” to answer the call of the open road. He enjoyed the road rules and camaraderie with fellow riders.
While on a well-deserved vacation, Gilley’s former life came to an end and his new normal, living with a disability, began when he violently slammed into a vehicle.
After months of recovery, numerous surgeries and physical therapy, Gilley, unapologetically felt worn out and beaten.
“I had a broken left thumb and my shin bone was shattered. I couldn’t walk. I needed help showering. I needed help going to the bathroom. If I went anywhere, I was in my wheelchair with my leg sticking straight out. I couldn’t do the basics. I felt hopeless,” Gilley said. “There were times when I wished I hadn’t lived through the accident, but in the end, with the support of my family, I’m glad I’m still here.”
Gilley was used to living an incredibly active lifestyle, but after the accident physical therapy was his only activity. His spirits were lifted when Navy Wounded Warrior – Safe Harbor asked if he’d like to attend an adaptive sports camp in California.
Competing in adaptive sports removed Gilley’s idea of what he couldn’t do. It gave him the strength and courage to believe he can accomplish any goal he sets his sight on. Soon after, he tried out for “Team Navy” to compete in the 2016 DoD Warrior Games.
“Competing in the games gave me a new drive to improve myself. It changed my thoughts from ‘I can’t’ to ‘why can’t I?’ The intra-service rivalry is still part of the games, but the competitors are amazing. You cheer for everyone because you know what it takes to compete at that level,” said Gilley. “When I showed my family what sitting volleyball and air pistol was all about they were amazed and supportive. They appreciate the positive changes adaptive sports have made to my mental well-being.”
The 2017 Warrior Games in Chicago are just around the corner and Gilley has already started his workout program to compete. He hopes to add wheelchair basketball and some field events to his arsenal.
“I walked away from this year’s games with a huge sense of self pride. Even though I didn’t earn a medal, I gave it everything I had. I now have something to look forward to next year,” said Gilley. “I want to show my children if you keep working hard you can achieve your goals no matter what stands in your way.”