I have always been a firm believer in overcoming trials, learning from life’s lessons and becoming an achiever. I am intrigued by Gods awesomeness and how he can help bring about some of the greatest blessings from the messes and trials in life. Sometimes, it takes the most life changing moments for doors of opportunity to open and for appreciation to flow into our hearts.
As a result, I am kicking off this new “feature” section of my blog where I interview REAL people who have overcome REAL trials in their lives. Each feature highlights amazing stories of trials to triumph and the human “will” to succeed, overcome and rise above!
I felt it would be perfect to kick off this new “feature” section with someone I am blessed to know. Joe Beimfohr is what I consider to be a true “hero”. In 1995 at the young age of 17 he entered the Army as a Calvary Scout. In 2004 he would face an attack that would leave him fighting for his life and would forever change life as he knew it. Knowing Joe, it became SO quickly apparent that he is a fighter, a true soldier and a lover of life! He has the best sense of humor and outlook and I can’t help but think this is what pulled him through this trying time in his life.
It got me thinking about his outlook, viewpoint and demeanor. There are people who struggle to overcome the smallest of things yet, others face nearly unbearable trials and persevere! I had to interview him to know more. I hope you enjoy this interview and are moved as much as I was. Joe really is a hero and I am blessed to be sharing this Soldiers testimony with you!
Q: Where did you grow up, what did you aspire to be as a young child? Did this change as you got older?
A: I grew up in Long Beach, CA and moved to Winchester, TN when I was 13. As a kid I played soccer and surfed when I lived in CA. Moving to TN from CA was a culture shock, but I’m glad to have been raised with southern values.
Q: Do you have family/siblings? Were they supportive of your decision to join the service?
A: I was raised an only child by my grandmother. She was supportive of my decision, many of my family members have served in the military so my family was very supportive.
Q: What year/how old were you when you decided to join the military?
A; I joined in 1995 when I was 17. I wanted to become a police officer and thought that the military would give me the training I needed so that I could apply later after my enlistment was up.
Q: What made you decide to join the service?
A: It was in high school that I decided to join, I talked to the different recruiters and decided that the Army had the most to offer. My family has a long history of service and I asked about their experiences and listened to their advice. I guess you could say it was a calling and something that I felt out of a deep sense of patriotism.
Q: What branch did you serve in and how long were you active?
A: I joined the Army in 1995 and enlisted as a Cavalry Scout. Scouts perform reconnaissance missions and gather intelligence and report enemy movements to help commanders paint a picture of the battlefield. I served for 11 years and medically retired as a Staff Sergeant in 2006 due to my injuries.
Q: How were you injured and what happened?
A: I deployed to Iraq in December of 2004 from Ft. Riley, KS. Our base was about 35 miles NW from Baghdad and had a lot of insurgents who were trained in detonating IED’s ( Improvised Explosive Devices). Our primary mission was to provide security to convoys that were travelling in our area, and providing a security force for the local population to help keep everyone safe.
On July 5th, 2005 we did a search of a town looking for information related to an insurgent attack that occurred a few weeks before. After we left the village and were driving back to base, my Lieutenant stopped his vehicle and said that he saw what he believed to be copper wire running across the road. Copper wire is used to detonate IED’s and I got out of my vehicle with two other soldiers to investigate and look for a possible IED. We found the wire and I noticed that there were two additional wires that branched off the main line, this told me that we possibly had three devices buried instead of one. We cut the wires so they couldn’t be detonated and then began to trace the wires back to their point of origin.
Little did we know that we were being watched by two insurgents from a nearby canal. As my patrol walked back and got closer to their position, the insurgents detonated an IED on my patrol, killing one of my soldiers instantly and severely wounding me. The blast amputated my left leg below the knee and caused all the bones in my right leg to fracture, rupturing all the blood vessels resulting in a complete amputation of my right leg at the hip. I also had a fractured pelvis, abdominal and hand injuries. I was medevaced to the nearest field hospital and then eventually transported to Walter Reed. I woke up 8 days later on July 13th from a medically induced coma and learned of my injuries. We later learned that there were in fact three bombs that were rigged to detonate at once. We could have lost almost twelve soldiers that day. Sadly we did lose one and that was one too many. The insurgents were eventually turned in by the local Iraqis and were sent prison.
Q: How did your life change after this?
A: This was a life changing event. The able-bodied life that I had lived for 28 years was over and I had to learn my new body and what my limits and capabilities were. It showed me that with time and effort, even the greatest obstacles can be conquered. My faith in God was renewed and I saw first hand the power of prayer. On my way to the hospital after the blast, I said a prayer to God and told him that if he wanted to call me home, then I was prepared to go. I asked for forgiveness of my sins and left my fate up to him. When I woke up 8 days later, I was more grateful to just be alive, that losing my legs really didn’t seem like a huge loss to me. I would say that the testing and renewing of my faith was the biggest life changing experience after my injury.
Q: What was your greatest obstacle and how did you work to overcome this?
A: The hardest part for me was living with survivor’s guilt. I lost a soldier under my command on the field of battle and I was alive and he wasn’t. I struggled with that for a long time. I talked to the Army Chaplains at Walter Reed and prayed a lot about it. I came to understand that we both did our duty and both of our sacrifices resulted in the other soldiers being spared that day. I still pray for that soldier and have been in touch with his friends and family. It’s something I will never forget, but I have learned to forgive myself.
Q: I remember briefly you sharing difficulties with getting around your home/apartment with your wheelchair. Tell us more about your new home and the foundation that helped you create it. How are things different now?
A: I recently received a new mortgage free home from Homes for Our Troops https://www.hfotusa.org/. My new house is fully accessible and barrier free. It’s such a relief to be in a peaceful, safe environment and I feel comfortable here. The house is funded solely by sponsors and donations and is a place for me to continue to grow and hopefully have a family.
Q: What did you do to overcome your injury and adapt to your new life?
A: Physical therapy and nutrition were the biggest parts of my recovery. Repairing the damage that was done and then working on building new muscle and strength came from lots of hard work. Therapy only teaches us about 60% of how our new lives will be. I had to just do things by trial and error to see what worked for me and what didn’t. After about the first 3 years, I had it pretty much figured out. Now I know what works and what doesn’t.
Q: What were stories/quotes, thoughts or people who inspired you and provided encouragement to you during this time?
A: We had great peer visitors at Walter Reed. They were usually vets from other wars like Vietnam or Korea who were injured and they were great examples to me and showed me how you can continue to live your life after your injury.
Q: What are the positives that came from your experience and how have you grown?
A: I always had a strong will and belief in myself before my injury, but now I have an even stronger will and belief in myself. I know that with time and effort, hard work pays off. Whenever I suffer a loss at a race or a training set back, I take it as a learning opportunity to evaluate my training and performance and then try to learn how to overcome that next time.
Q: What is your new life like now? What are you currently doing?
A: I found my inner athlete. I train 5-6 days a week. I got into triathlon last year so my days are spent swimming, riding my handcycle, and pushing my racing wheelchair. I really like triathlons, the variety of training helps make each day a challenge. The people I have met are great and supportive. That’s another reason I love living here in FL, I get to train year round!
Q: How did you get involved in cycling and becoming an athlete?
A: I started handcycling after I left Walter Reed. The first major race I did was the 2008 NYC Marathon. It took me almost 3 hours to finish, now I do a marathon in about half that time! After years of just handcycling, I evolved into triathlons which are becoming my primary sport and competition now.
Q: Was there a moment that you decided to just “make it happen” and become an achiever??
A: I had known guys that had completed marathons and I just said to myself, “If they can do it, so can I”. So I got a handcycle and started training for the marathon. After I finished, I felt such a sense of accomplishment that I hadn’t felt since being injured and I was hooked a competing again. That one race made me an athlete again!
Q: Tell us more about your team. Where can people learn more?
A: I handcycle with the Paralyzed Veterans racing teamhttp://www.pva.org/site/c.ajIRK9NJLcJ2E/b.6305947/k.8F78/Learn_More_About_Paralyzed_Veterans_of_America_Handcycling.htm and have started racing triathlons under Team RWB http://teamrwb.org/. Both teams are huge supporters of not only veterans but adaptive sports.
Q: What are some of your awards or accomplishments?
A: 2008 & 2009 Army 10 Miler winner
2011 2nd place Boston Marathon
3rd place 2013 Sadler’s Alaska Challenge (H4 Division)
Q: What are your future plans and goals?
A: Short term would be to qualify for the Team USA Paratriathlon Team and go to the 2016 Paralympic Games.
Long term would be to go back to college and possibly pursue a degree in exercise science or recreational therapy.
Q: What is a quote or motto you live by?
A: 2 Timothy 4:7
– I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith-
Q: If you had to offer up life encouragement/advice to someone overcoming trials: what would it be?
A: You have two choices when you face an obstacle. You can whine and moan about your situation or you can accept it and then move forward to overcoming it. I choose to move forward!