Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team member and Massachusetts native Greg Reynolds tossed out the first pitch in front of the crowd during New Hampshire Scholars Day at Northeast Delta Dental Stadium on June 3.
Reynolds also took center stage at an infield podium to speak to thousands of high school students who have completed an NHScholars.org curriculum. He inspired the crowd as he recounted his personal experiences overcoming adversity and succeeding in life. He concluded his speech by dropping to the infield grass and performing twelve one-armed push-ups an impressive pace, in honor of the 12 years of school completed by the seniors.
The Wounded Warrior Softball player hadn't always been so poised and confident. The amputee had to learn these skills after being thrown some of the toughest curve balls life could pitch.
Rewind to April of 2003. Reynolds was living a completely different life as an Army soldier deployed to Iraq. Each morning he would wake to the unknown dangers presented to him. Trust was always a concern when he ventured on off-base missions as the enemy was never in uniform. He has first-hand experience seeing fellow soldiers injured in the line of duty. Despite these daily dangers Greg Reynolds completed his deployment without injury.
Returning home was a challenge within itself. He had to readapt to life in the United States. Without his rifle by his side he experienced a vulnerability that only a war veteran can describe. The sounds of fireworks would catch him off guard. He would react quickly when someone approached him from behind and he wasn't too comfortable in crowds.
Reynolds combatted these vulnerabilities by staying active. The gym became his outlet for stress relief. It also helped him prepare for his second deployment that was quickly approaching.
This day, however, never came. Instead Reynolds was to be challenged to beat the odds once again. He and his friends were on their way home from a car and bike show in Rhode Island. After taking a left turn out of the park his memory fades. Nine miles later when a vehicle entered his lane of travel, Reynolds' body was catapulted through the air and he landed lying face down on the ground. He wasn't moving. He was hardly alive.
"That was all she wrote," he told Inside Pitch.
Greg Reynold's survival was unlikely had it not been for two facts: first, there was an ambulance on call at a nearby intersection and, second, Reynolds was in the best physical and mental shape of his life.
The emergency personnel were quick to respond and rushed him to Rhode Island Trauma Center in record time. The paramedics performed a cardiac massage the entire ride to the hospital, as his heart was grotesquely visible.
At the hospital the surgeon was surprised that Greg was still alive given the extent of Greg's injuries. He took 36 units of blood in the first 4 hours and that number climbed to 101 units within two weeks. Due to a brain injury he slipped into a coma for nearly six weeks. His lungs were so badly damaged the doctors placed him on what they referred to as the "last ditch" ventilator. And he lost a fifth of his body when they amputated his left arm, shoulder, clavicle and scapula.
When he awoke finally, Reynolds felt as if he had been trapped within a bad dream. His muscles were weak from lack of movement, he was unable to sit up or talk, and he had no memory of the accident.
"It was like (the movie) 50 First Dates," he said. "Doctors had to repeatedly tell me what had happened and where I was." Including the fact that his arm had been amputated.
When he first saw himself in the mirror he broke down and became withdrawn, depressed, and angry.
These feelings were short lived. Greg began rehabilitation and physical therapy and his determination and hard work prevailed. He learned to ski and kayak again. Reynolds became involved with the Paralympic Military Program training as a power lifter and precision air rifle shooter. Greg has been sky diving and competes in "Tough Mudder" courses, both passions of his today.
After being seen on a poster with an adaptive kayaking paddle Reynolds received an invitation to try out for the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team. He promptly agreed and traveled to Arizona for the tryout. Reynolds made it through a tough training camp and was one of only ten players to make the team. This is where his new path to success began.
Since joining the team Reynolds has mastered hitting with one arm, catching the ball, and the importance of the glove flip. He's able to play at a highly competitive level and loves it.
"It's been an honor to play on this team. We share the same camaraderie that we had when serving in the military. How many people know what it's like being an amputee or in combat? Only a small number of people realize how much we have gone through," Reynolds explained.
In addition to enhancing the lives of amputees the Wounded Warrior Amputee Softball Team has a second mission - to inspire and educate others. One example of this is the team's amputee softball camp for kids. Each year 20 kids are invited to camp to share their stories and learn that other kids their age have similar life experiences.
"The camp gives kids hope," Reynolds said. "All of their insecurities are (something) that they have in common with their peers. They become confident and comfortable within themselves. They see us (the WWAST members), someone older than the kids, enjoying life and being able to play softball and it shows them how much they can move on."
Reynolds always chooses to mentor the kids who are arm amputees. Each year, brings a new story and a new friendship for Reynolds. He stays in touch with all of the kids he has met. This past year, for example, he worked with a girl named Jen who had been born without an arm. One night at dinner, she was comfortable enough to open up to Greg and some of the team members. She relayed a story that she had never before told. Jen's mother was in awe, as she had never heard her daughter speak of the personal battles she had faced. This was a game changer - Jen was finally embracing her challenges and believing in herself. Jen now is on a travel basketball team and plays softball. She has even begun to do one-armed pushups like Greg.
A second impactful tale which Reynold's shared was regarding a boy named Bryce who attended the kid's camp at Disney World. Despite having no lingering pain from his injury Bryce requested a wheelchair. When asked why he needed the wheelchair Bryce replied that he wanted to be the same as the other kids at camp. Greg used this conversation as an opportunity to speak to Bryce about the power of being your own person. After that conversation Bryce spotted another little boy at camp who was in obvious pain and he decided to give his wheelchair to the young boy.
Greg Reynolds is unquestionably an inspirational and humble man. He has a positive impact on each person he meets. The message he conveys is one forged from personal perseverance. But he does not consider himself a hero.
"I think the people they call real heroes are the men and women who never made it home and gave their lives as the ultimate sacrifice. I am not a hero. I was put in an extraordinary circumstance, fought the battle, and won. Now I'm here. I not only help myself but I help others. My odds of survival due to the accident were 1 in 2000. I always ask myself, why did I pull through? Obviously I had the right mindset, I wasn't done living, but also I believe I'm meant to inspire others and lead by example".
There is a simple, yet powerful message that all of us can learn from Greg's experiences. Whether faced with an unthinkable circumstance or the simple choices we make each day, we all have the ability to steer ourselves in a positive direction.
Reynolds has established a foundation called Makin' Lemonade (www.makinlemonade.org). Its mission is "to inspire and promote a positive and active lifestyle when life has handed you lemons". He is also a motivational speaker, certified peer visitor, and frequently visits with amputees.