When North Carolina resident Marc Owens lost portions of both of his legs in a parachuting accident, he never questioned, “Why?” Instead, he embraced the fact that he survived.
“I am blessed to be alive!” he said.
Marc first met SSG Travis Mills, founder of the Travis Mills Foundation, while they both recovered at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
“Travis was like a mentor to me,” Marc said. “He sat me down and said look, what you put into this is what you’re going to get out of it.”
Years later, it’s thanks to the Travis Mills Foundation that Marc was introduced to a sport in that changed his life – handcycling. He even competed in the New York City Marathon this past fall.
As the Travis Mills Foundation readies to open its new Health and Wellness Center in summer 2022, it’s their hope to empower even more veterans like Marc to try different things, whether it’s a new weight or pool routine or sport.
Early Life and Service
Originally from Albion, Michigan, Marc joined the military right out of high school and served as an Armor Crewman from 1985 to 1988. After an eight-year break, Marc reenlisted as an Air Defense Operator. He served with US. Army Parachute Team, The Golden Knights, the Army’s official aerial demonstration team. Marc served as a freefall photographer with the team. The Golden Knights travel throughout the U.S., performing parachute demonstrations at air shows, professional football and baseball games, and special events, connecting the Army with the American people.
SFC Owens served faithfully and honorably and retired from the Army on Sept. 25, 2014, after 25 years of service to our country.
A Defining Moment
With just shy of 5,000 high-altitude parachute jumps under his belt, on Sept. 27, 2012, Marc was in a skydiving accident that he describes as “horrific.” While performing in Randleman, North Carolina, he had a low-altitude malfunction and he came crashing to the ground at a high rate of speed.
In addition to the amputation of both of his legs, Marc had an aortic transection, open book pelvic fracture, mesenteric laceration with hem peritoneum and a right common femoral fracture. He was rushed to Moses Cone Hospital in Greensboro, North Carolina, which he credits for amazing care and saving his life.
Marc was placed in a medically induced coma for seven weeks. As Marc’s condition improved, he was transferred to Walter Reed. Even though his friends and family in North Carolina and Michigan were hours away, they visited often, offering their love and support.
“During this time I was fit with prosthetics and well on my journey to recovery,” Marc said. “It had been a struggled both mentally and physically. With that being said, it was my motivator. I pushed and challenged myself each and every day.
Marc was among the second group of recalibrated veterans to attend the Travis Mills Foundation in 2019 and is one of the organization’s first 10 ambassadors chosen to represent its mission.
The Foundation’s COO and Program Director Kelly Roseberry collaborated with the Achilles Freedom Team Project to bring handcycling to the retreat and born out of that effort was a number of recalibrated veterans, including Marc, finding great enthusiasm for the sport.
Roseberry said she brought handcycling to the retreat because it’s an activity that families can participate in with their recalibrated veteran. It’s also great for the cardiovascular system and it builds strength.
For Marc, handcycling was a newfound passion. When he followed up with the Achilles Freedom Team Project and they asked if he’d like to race, he didn’t think twice.
“Heck yeah I’ll try it,” he said.
His first half marathon was at Disney in 2020. Shortly after, the pandemic shut down in-person events. However, Marc continued to train. It was a year later in November 2021 that he competed in the handcycle division of the New York City Marathon.
“It was an experience,” he said. “From course difficulties to the excitement from the crowd that lined the route, it was amazing.”
Out of 80 participants, Marc came in 24th, results he’s satisfied with.
Marc will continue to train and recently upgraded his handcycle.
“You gotta get out there and live life,” he said. “Don’t look at your disability as a disability, look at it as a challenge to your ability. Those of us who are missing limbs, we all know that we have a disability, but if you let that define you, you’ll never know what your abilities are.”
About the TMF Health and Wellness Center
The Travis Mills Foundation will open its new Health and Wellness Center in summer 2022. After recalibrated veterans were injured, they rehabbed on ultramodern fitness equipment that they would never see again once their recovery was over. While it was vital for their recovery at the time, it doesn’t help them now when they go to their local gym, pool, or home gym.
It’s our goal to fill the new center with state-of-the-art, but mainstream fitness equipment that veterans who visit the retreat will be able to learn how to use. They can then take these skills home with them to maintain healthy lifestyles beyond their visit to the retreat.
It’s our goal to not only teach them how to adapt this mainstream equipment to their needs, but to encourage their entire family to join in or assist in their veteran’s fitness journey.