Warriors for the Wounded

CARLOS MOLEDA

Everything you know about paralyzed athletes, says Carlos Moleda, is wrong. "Some people, for whatever reason, have a picture of people in a chair and think that they're unhappy or depressed," says Moleda, a former Navy SEAL who was paralyzed in a 1989 raid. "It's totally the opposite. Of course there's a phase where they have to relearn things, but once they have a grasp on who they are and what the possibilities are, they're the greatest people to have around. They have a tendency to look at the good, because they know that things can change in the blink of an eye." Moleda, 49, has become a face and ambassador for paralyzed athletes from his home in Bluffton, owing mostly to that he's an astonishingly good one. He grew up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, but relocated to the Pacific coast as a teenager with California dreams of surfing and skateboarding. But partly due to his striking out on his own as a teenager, he found that his work ethic overmatched fun the warm California sun. "I discovered then I was a pretty hard worker," he said. "That's been a big part of my life, that eagerness to be successful in just about everything that I do. And when I joined the Navy and found out about the SEAL teams, it was, 'Boom, that's exactly what I'm looking for.'"

JD GREER

After 21 years in the Army, numerous overseas deployments and one arm lost to a Baghdad bomb, JD Greer felt it was time for a pause. "I figure after getting blown up last time, my eighth time, I'd cheated death enough," says the Savannah resident. "I thought I'd enjoy my retirement. Bounce my grandkids on my knee." As it turns out, he was just starting a much different kind of work. Greer, 55, who retired from the Army in 2003 as a major and who lost his right arm in Iraq in 2006, now serves as a peer mentor with Wounded Warriors, a Jacksonville-based organization whose goal is to foster "the most successful, well-adjusted generation of wounded service members in our nation's history." The nonprofit, founded in 2002, works with returning soldiers who've suffered injuries (physical and otherwise) in everything from education — classes are taught by Florida State professors and held at the organization's headquarters in Jacksonville — to activities such as hunting programs, skiing and winter sports. The group, Greer says, has grown 600% in the past few years. As of Oct. 1, it's worked with more than 23,000 "alumni." And with tens of thousands of troops at Fort Stewart and Hunter, many with similar stories, Savannah is an area with a great need for veterans' care — more, Greer suspects, than is actually being given.

SCOTT RIGSBY 

“Here I am, I'm 39 years old, and I have nothing to show for my life. I am broke, I am in a dead-end job, and I want to take my life.” That’s how Scott Rigsby assessed his life just before he decided to become the first ever double-amputee to cross the finish line at the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon. The summer before Rigsby planned to start a new life with his college career, he worked a landscaping job for the housing authority of Camilla, Georgia. On the way to mow lawns one afternoon, Rigsby was sitting in the bed of the pickup when a semi passed too closely, puncturing the truck’s tire. Rigsby was thrown from the truck and dragged 324 feet pinned in the brace of the trailer carrying the crew’s equipment. When EMTs arrived at the scene, they instructed his friends who were with him and escaped the accident unscathed to scour the highway for Rigsby’s missing heel bone. After X-rays at the hospital, he was told that his shredded right leg had to be removed to save his life. He voluntarily had his left leg removed after 12 years of infections and other complications related to trying to maintain it. Following a painful and wearisome recovery from the accident, he battled with addiction, depression and other struggles as a result of the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and the pain of his rehabilitation. Now a world-renowned athlete, Rigsby has become an advocate for wounded veterans and a speaker around the world, sharing his story in hope of inspiring others.