Before pursuing a career as a paratriathlete, Pennsylvania resident Zach Stinson enlisted with the U.S. Marine Corps right out of high school.
“I had wanted to make a difference and serving in the military seemed like the way to do just that,” he said. “I went to boot camp in Parris Island four days after my 18th birthday.”
What would be his first and last deployment to Marjah, Afghanistan, changed the course of his life forever.
“I stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) four months into my deployment,” Zach said.
The blast sent him flying through the air and resulted in the loss of both of his legs above the knee, some fingers and internal injuries. Despite this, he outlook was outstandingly positive:
“Through this, I was given new life.”
Zach spent two years living in hospitals with his wife and during that time, their first child was born.
“Our family had been uprooted and changed forever but the best part of being knocked down like this is that there is only up,” he said.
During the time he spent as an outpatient at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Bethesda, he competed his first marathon in 2012.
“I found that I had no interest in continuing with the sport,” he said. “We moved on with life in search of whatever it was I was going to do with the rest of my life.”
Zach and his young family returned home that same year in 2012 when he completed internships for the government and began to study gunsmithing.
“I spent a lot of my time traveling to hunt and somewhere along the line I began to get more involved with handcycling,” Zach said. “I would compete sometimes, and with my traveling, I would have to miss some races. I had become involved with Achillies Freedom Team. These weekend races provided me time away with my family, to include our now second child, and interaction with others like our family.”
In 2016, Zach began racing a little more and found himself coming in the top 10 with no training or real effort. As this began happening more consistently, he quickly realized that he had a natural gift for the sport.
“What would this look like if I began training? If I took this seriously, would I have a chance at winning?” he asked himself.
Since then, Zach has since joined Team Semper Fi and continues to race with Achilles Freedom Team.
“My family and I work together as a team, traveling both domestically and internationally to chase down my next goal of competing in the Paralympics,” he said. “I want to use my God-given talents and gifts to motivate others and encourage them to overcome obstacles in their life.”
The Travis Mills Foundation
The Stinson family’s first experience at the Travis Mills Foundation Veterans Retreat was in August 2019.
“It was great, our kids and us had a blast. It was relaxing and some time away from our normal to enjoy with one another. We were able to let loose and enjoy the beauty or Maine,” Zach said.
His favorite memory is swimming with his wife and children at the Retreat’s waterfront.
The Recalibrate Program
New in 2022, the Travis Mills Foundation established the Recalibrate Program, which capitalizes on a participant’s motivation after the Retreat. We provide financial assistance, goal setting and long-term follow up.
For the Stinson family, the Foundation sent Zach’s wife Tesa and their two daughters, Olivia and Rylee, on a trip of a lifetime to Spain to see Zach compete in the World Triathlon, representing the U.S., in which he came in second place.
What’s always a dilemma for the family is worrying about their girls at home when they travel for competitions.
“With TMF providing the money for the girls to travel with us I did not have to worry,” said Tesa. “I had my babies with me at all times. We can’t thank you enough for blessing us with the gift of being able to take our children on their first “out of country” experience AND (most of all) taking these worries off of a mama. Every once in a while I get stuck between being a supportive wife and being a mama. While these times are few and far in between, this time I was able to travel with Zach for the time he needed me and I didn’t have to worry about caring for my children.”
“Zach does not work a typical job,” she added. “It is hard to explain to our children that while he is training he is working. This opportunity to bring them with us provided for them to see daddy at work.”
“I would never be able to capture in words the peace that this gave me. So thank you TMF! Thank you for taking this burden off of me. Thank you for allowing me to support my husband and bring our children on this adventure.”