North Texas Daily

UNT veteran working toward 2016 Special Olympics goal

UNT veteran working toward 2016 Special Olympics goal

April 01
20:45 2013

Meagan Hatton / Contributing Writer

Sounds of ringing are echoing in his head like loud bass speakers. He doesn’t hear anything else. Life is moving in slow motion, but he can start to hear the sounds of a machine gun. He reaches down to his leg, and his hands are covered in blood. He grabs a tourniquet and tries to put it on, but it breaks. He turns to his sergeant and sees him slumped over. He screams when he realizes the sergeant’s body has been blown in half.

He turns to the gunner and screams for another tourniquet. He tries again. It breaks again.

He makes a tourniquet with his hands and sits there, trying to stop the bleeding.A radio call finally comes through and ten minutes later he is carried and put behind a vehicle. He is lucid, delirious, and losing too much blood.

Hey Jude, don’t make it bad. Take a sad song, and make it better. He sings the lyrics to Hey Jude by the Beatles and the other soldiers join in. He passes out and wakes up in a hospital in Baghdad the next day, one leg missing, and remembering everything that happened the night before.

When they made their rounds for the night on January 10th, 2009, Andrew Bradley, 24, never thought that the MRAP he was driving would be hit with an EFP, Explosively Formed Penetrator. He and nine other soldiers were patrolling around Balad, Iraq, to make sure that the Iraqi police had trashcans. The streets were known for being layered with feces and sanitation was an issue for the city. Bradley said he remembers the new lieutenant telling him to drive back to the base the same way they went out, which was not typical.

“He told us to go back the same way we went, but you don’t ever want to go back the same way you came in,” Bradley said. The reason for this, he said, is because it gives people an opportunity to set up IEDs, Improvised Explosive Devices.

The sounds of songs shuffling on an iPod fled the MRAP and harmonized with the sounds of gravel crackling with every inch forward on the tires. The streets were dark and clear, as if seeing through a pair of sunglasses. And out of nowhere, the EFP hit.

Bradley’s sister, Kristen Bradley, 25, remembers how she felt when her family told her the news about her younger brother losing his leg.

“I initially thought that my brother had died because I didn’t hear the extent of his injury first, so that was terrible,” Kristen Bradley said. “I felt like I lost my own life. That’s the feeling you get when you’ve lost someone that close to you.”

Sgt. Bower died that night, but Bradley said that everyone from the troop was affected in ways other than physical. For Bradley, it means becoming the marathon runner that he is today. But before submerging his body in marathons, and before coming to terms with his life outside of the military, Bradley spent almost two months at BAMC, Brooke Army Medical Center, in San Antonio, Texas, after surgery on his leg at a German Air Force base. He spent a full year at physical rehab in San Antonio, working side-by-side with others who had lost limbs in the war. His mother stayed with him for five months during this time, and his sister remembers his uplifting attitude about the whole situation.

Photo by Meagan Hatton/Contributing Photographer

“I think I heard my brother complain once in the hospital and it was about smelling blood- and that was it,’ Kristen Bradley said. “We went to the store to buy Febreze and not a single lament after that.”

For Bradley if it weren’t for him signing up for the Army at 17-years-old back in January of 2007, he might not have realized his hunger for running.

“It made a huge change in my life,” Bradley said. “It’s my passion now.”

But before becoming a soldier, a veteran, and a runner, Bradley remembers daydreaming about serving his country. His family members that have served in the military were an inspiration for what he felt like was a calling.

“I remember drawing myself in a tank,” he said. “I was such a romantic about it.”

His first year was spent in the 82nd Airborne of 505th Unit at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Bradley and other soldiers could be found jumping out of planes, engaging in combat and weapon training, and mowing the yards. But Bradley would spend his other time researching previous battles fought and the history of war. It was at Fort Bragg that he began to have second thoughts about the moral aspects of the military.

“I had in my head what the Army was and what the wars were about, and instead of just going with it and wanting to see what I was seeing,” Bradley said, “I started understanding what it was that I was living and seeing.”

His troop was sent to Kuwait for two weeks of training and weather adjustment in October of 2008 and then was sent off to Iraq. Although Bradley was still questioning his role in the military, he was eager to leave the United States. He said the experience was surreal and he felt alive. But upon working in Balad, his thoughts on war, and his role in it, began to resurface. This time, more pressingly.

“I think war can be a constructive thing, if it’s a just war,” Bradley said. “But I kind of saw the bullshit in how Iraq was not what it was, what I thought it was.”

Although Bradley said he isn’t happy about what happened the night of January 10th, 2009, he said that he is happy about where his life is now, apart from the military.

“I did not want to be in the military anymore, and I didn’t want to live that kind of lifestyle for another six years,” Bradley said.

Bradley is grateful for his passion in running, and that’s because it has become a religious experience for him, he said. It all started when his sister, Kristen, got a job at Run On! Fitness in January of 2012. She began running everyday, and after a while, Bradley said he became competitive. In the beginning, however, Bradley was having a hard time running long distances.

“I could barely run one-and-a-half miles eight months ago, but one night I just went out and ran 10 miles straight,” Bradley said. “Then it all the sudden clicked.”

Now, day after day, his mind turns off and goes somewhere else. Bills, car problems, traffic and other thoughts get cleared and a feeling of peacefulness overcomes him, he said. Bradley is currently working towards bringing this peacefulness to his next big goal: running in the 2016 Special Olympics.

“I think if I try, I can get there,” Bradley said. “I know I have it in me and the ability to do that.”

Kristen Bradley was attending the University of North Texas at the time, and since Bradley wanted to attend college, he decided the next logical step would be to move to Denton, live with his sister, and start taking classes. As far as the military and his role of being a soldier was concerned, he had already moved on.

“I kind of put that life behind me, and I stay away from that culture now,” Bradley said. “When I move on from things, I put it behind me.”

Bradley moved to Denton in February of 2010 and began a new chapter in his life. But after taking a year’s worth of classes at UNT and not feeling academically engaged, Bradley realized his situation.

“I never had PTSD or anything like that, nightmares and stuff, but I did go through a period of depression,” Bradley said. “Running led me out of that.”

Kristen Bradley agrees with his unique ability and desire to run, despite his missing of a limb. She also feels that running has helped him stay out of a depression that surfaced above him for quite some time.

“I think [running] has helped him restore confidence physically and socially, just like it would anyone else,” Kristen Bradley said. “That’s what I love about my brother- that he has taken his life and made it just as yours and mine. Not once did he have pity or feel sorry for himself about losing his leg. You can see it in his attitude, and when he beats me in our races. I think it has helped him not only to believe that he is physically capable, but to know that he is as physically capable as a runner with two legs.”

And many friends and family agree that Bradley has made the best out of an unfortunate situation. His ability to endure through any circumstance is something that is recognizable to most. “He’s gone through so much, but in my eyes it didn’t phase him like it would most,” said friend, 22-year-old Robert Thurston. “In a way, he conquered this ultimate shitball that life threw at him. He’s truly an amazing person.”

Bradley has ran in 5K’s, 10K’s, and on February 24th, 2013, Bradley ran his first marathon, totaling 26.2 miles and finishing just over four hours. Bradley said when he crossed the finish line, he wasn’t happy because he was so mad about how much pain he was in. And although draining and excruciatingly testing, Bradley said he plans to run another marathon in the future.

“It’s a good metaphor for life,” Bradley said. “At the beginning you start out, you’re excited, you feel strong. And then you’re going through and you just start feeling like you’re older and older, like all the trials and tribulations of your life. You get to mile 16-17, and pain, I guess old age, starts setting in, and you start feeling it. Then you just have to pretty much have to hold on until the end. After about 20 miles, it’s just holding on for dear life. It sucks so bad. Then you look back on it, and you view it as being all worth it.”

As for now, training for the Special Olympics and for his next marathon are the top priorities on his to-do-list. His sister believes that he will achieve these next two big goals. “He’s really fast and that’s amazing,” Kristen Bradley said. “He demonstrates the true resilience of a runner, soldier, and a brother,”

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