04 Jun 2013

War Veteran sets Goal Toward Victory

Please read this story from Kelley Mohr of The Daily Record about Veteran, Josh Sommers and his journey with The Patriot Runners.

By KELLEY MOHR-Staff Writer Published: March 10, 2013 4:00AM

ASHLAND — In defiance of the injury that nearly took his life and continues to test his strength, a local veteran plans to complete a marathon.

But for Joshua Sommers, a 2005 graduate of Loudonville High School who was severely injured while serving in Afghanistan, simply walking a mile will constitute a marathon.

Sommers, who joined the United States Army in 2007 as a member of the 101st Airborne Division, was four months into his 2010 deployment to Afghanistan when he was hit by a blast from a rocket-propelled grenade that led to an eight-month coma, multiple surgeries and never-ending therapy.

The injury effectively transformed the former high school athlete’s active lifestyle into one of constant struggle. Head trauma — sustained on June 14, 2010 — put Sommers in a wheelchair, paralyzed on one side, with almost complete cortical blindness and only partial hearing.

“All that means is that I see bits and pieces of things, but nothing that stays for any length of time. For example, I can see you right now, but if I stare at you for 10 minutes, I’ll probably only see you for five minutes out of the 10,” explained Sommers. “My vision comes and goes.”

So far, it’s been a long road to recovery.

“It hasn’t been easy, either,” said Sommers. “I walk. I started (therapy at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Hospital) twice a week doing aquatic therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy. Now, I go to therapy once a week to do physical therapy and blind rehab.”

Recently, this includes learning braille.

“I just finished the alphabet yesterday,” Sommers said on a recent day from his home in rural Ashland County. “The hard part (my therapist) said is memorizing the letters. I’ve already done that, and it doesn’t sound hard to me.”

In addition to his VA therapy, Sommers works out on a treadmill, stationary bike and arm bike at home, where he also practices braille and watches movies. The point of the physical and mental exercises, he said, is to kick-start his brain into action and reawaken sleeping muscles.

“I work out every day to make myself stronger in hopes that the stronger I make myself, the more my brain will kick in and say, ‘Hey dude. Alright, we’re going to help you a little bit,’ so I can walk normally. At the moment, it hasn’t happened,” Sommers said.

Though the fight is hard, Sommers isn’t giving up. Instead, he’s soldiering on with a specific goal in mind.

“A long-term goal of mine that I’ve had only since I got hurt is to run a marathon,” he said. “Now I think it is more acceptable for me to walk just a mile. A mile would be a marathon for me.

“I almost walked a whole mile last Thursday in therapy on the treadmill, but the treadmill helps me in case I fall. Walking on solid ground, by myself, with a cane would be a marathon for me,” he said.

To make this goal a reality, Sommers has help.

Sommers was contacted by Patriot Runners, a Medina-based organization established in 2012 that calls itself “a normal and not so normal group of runners that are dedicated to using our talents as runners to raise money for combat-wounded veterans.”

The group’s main objective is to help return these veterans to recreational sports in an effort to lesson the effects of post-traumatic stress disorders and traumatic brain injuries.

“Our goal is to help get local wounded combat vets into recreational sports like running, baseball or whatever sports they used to like to do,” said Patriot Runners President Charles Elkins. “We’re trying to use the physical side of sports to help these guys deal with their injuries and have something else to do.”

The group helps with physical therapy costs, prosthetics, training and disorder awareness.

Sommers is a perfect candidate for the program, Elkins said.

“Josh fits in really well. You talk to the guy and he has a great personality. He’s not down on himself and he has a really good attitude. He just wants to try, so we want to give him that opportunity one way or another to see what we can do,” he said.

“We hope to use the next few months and the next few years to help him participate in a marathon, one way or another,” Elkins said.

That process began with a pair of shoes. But not just any shoes.

“Josh was wounded in Afghanistan, which left him partially paralyzed, partially blind and deaf, and confined to a wheelchair … so what does he do? Josh sets his goals high and is determined to compete in a few races in 2013,” said Brian Polen of Vertical Runner. “We were pleased to help him get in some proper footwear, the Made in America New Balance 860, of course.”

The New Balance 860s — flashy, brightly-colored sneakers that now never seem to leave Sommers’s feet — were made available through the Patriot Runners Donald Hammett Sr. Shoes Program, named in memory of the Korean War veteran who taught astronomy and coached track and cross country at Firestone High School in Akron for 23 years. When Hammett passed away in December, his family asked donations be made to Patriot Runners in lieu of flowers.

Even after the funeral, that program continues.

“From that fund, we paid for shoes for Josh and his mother,” Elkins said. “We’d like to continue to get more donations in so we can help more people like Josh.”

To find out more, or to donate, go to www.patriot-runners.org.

Sommers is grateful to the organization, and not only for hooking him up with some shoes. Patriot Runners also will keep Sommers posted on upcoming races.

“They’re telling Mom when they are going to run their next marathon, so I can at least come and try to compete, to walk a mile of (it’s) towards my goal,” he said.

While Sommers deals with his monumental healing process, his dream of running a marathon is a miracle in itself, said Elkins. One mile will truly be Sommers’ marathon.

“We all have to realize our limitations, but with a little help (Sommers) can accomplish his goals,” said Elkins.

The next step for Sommers will involve a meeting between Patriot Runners and Sommers’ physical therapists at the VA hospital to determine how to work toward the goal without impeding the veteran’s progress.

Therapy helps, said Sommers. So do movies.

Lately, Sommers enjoyed “Safe Haven” and “Jack the Giant Slayer” on the big screen. With only 40 percent of his hearing intact, the experience is different from that of most movie-goers.

“My brain doesn’t process the sound completely. … I see more than I hear, so I don’t really understand anything that is going on most of the time. But I still like to go for the sounds and stuff,” he said. “It is really good stimulation for my brain, to make my brain work.”

“We like to go for stimulation, it helps his brain,” said Lisa Sommers, his mother. “We try to keep busy, we’re always looking for something to do.”

Last week, that involved something a little different. Through initiatives by Push America, Challenge Aspen and the Wounded Warrior Project, Sommers and his mother traveled to Aspen, Colo., to ski, aided by adaptive equipment.

It was the family’s third time in Aspen since his injury, adding to prior experiences of white-water rafting, horseback riding, rodeo, fly fishing and visiting the hot springs.


Reporter Kelley Mohr can be reached at 330-674-5676 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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