HOLLEN & HOLLEN

From Eric Hollen, U.S. Shooting:

I would like to share a short story with you, to put a personal perspective on how I have found my way through my injury. 

I was a Special Operations Soldier for ten years. The Special Operations lifestyle is not very conducive to successful family life, because you have two families: the one you work with (your team) and your family that you leave at home when you deploy. I realized that I needed to be home to be a good husband and father, so I got out of the military and started a horse farm in Tennessee.

Shortly after that, in March 2001, I suffered a tractor accident and broke my back, ruptured my diaphragm, broking my pelvis, and tearing my aorta severely.  (I don’t think you can tear your aorta in a way that is not severe!)  Shortly after the surgeries that saved my life, the doctors said, “Eric, we really don’t know how you survived this level of trauma.”

Two years into my injury I met Dan Jordan, a former colliegiate National Champion who had suffered a spinal cord injury about eight years prior to mine. He was on the U.S. Paralympic Team as a rifle shooter, and he helped me get started in the Olympic Shooting events.

I was at lunch with Dan shortly after we first met and maybe the second day of shooting; Dan said something that really blew me away: “Eric, this injury could very well be the best thing that ever happened to you.”  I kind of shook my head in disbelief, but because Dan was in a wheelchair, I heard what he said. Mind you, I did not really agree with him at that time. I was newly injured, so the reason I heard what he said, and never forgot it, was because Dan was an elite-level athlete prior to his injury, and through academics and athletics he was able to find success post injury. I wanted to find my way to that point.  What point, you ask?  The point where I could at least level the playing field from Special Operations soldier to Paralympic athlete.   

The really great thing about being a Paralympian has been that, as I fought to recover from a catastrophic life-changing injury through the sport of shooting and academics, I was able to refocus my life on what really matters: being a good father. The sport has provided not just myself with an opportunity to become a Paralympic athlete, but it has provided my daughter with a chance to become an elite-level ski racer. Payten is 13 years old and trains with me at the Olympic Training Center (OTC).  She is a first year J-3 alpine ski racer with Team Breckinridge, and is training with strength and conditioning at the OTC. If I had not suffered my injury, Payten would not have the opportunity to be chasing her dream of becoming an Olympic ski racer.

So what Dan said back in 2003 has come true.  At this point I would not trade the life experiences and lessons I learned because of my injury for the world.  I am a better father and better man, and have found that not only did I level the playing field from Special Operations soldier to Paralympian, but I have eclipsed all previous pinnacles achieved prior to injury.  I now have the proud honor to represent my country in the Paralympic Games in London 2012. Who gets to do that? It’s just an amazing journey, and now my daughter may very well eclipse all my achievements by chasing her dream, too.  

All the best to all in 2012 -- Go Team USA!

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