Why Crozet: Veteran Finds Battle Injury Blessing in Disguise

Kevin Blanchard recently returned from a summer sports clinic sponsored by the Wounded Warriors Project. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

“Why Crozet” is a long-running monthly feature that examines what makes the Crozet area a positive place to live, and the people in the community who inspire and uplift us. For August, we’ve chosen a Crozet resident who has used his experience with pain and trauma to find growth in ways he never expected. Cpl. Kevin Blanchard wants his story to encourage others who have experienced a painful life-changing event, whether an injury on the battlefield or a more hidden personal tragedy.

In pain, and recovering from a serious injury sustained in Iraq, Marine Cpl. Kevin Blanchard turned to extreme fitness and adventure as a way to cope. “Physical therapy and chiropractors can only do so much to manage that kind of pain,” he said. “I knew I’d have to figure something out for myself.”

Blanchard lost most of his left leg and damaged his right leg in 2005. He was driving when his Humvee hit a roadside bomb in Iraq’s northwestern territory.  After more than a year, and dozens of surgeries at Walter Reed Medical Center, his first introduction to adaptive sports was on a hand-controlled bicycle. As he worked through the pain of physical exertion after months of inactivity, he learned that pushing himself to the limit was helpful for his emotional as well as physical health. “This is my way of fighting back,” he said. 

As he grew stronger, he found the pain lessened, although he acknowledged that he’ll probably always experience some pain.

Once he got started, there was nothing he wouldn’t try. He trekked through South America for months and went with a guide to an isolated tribe in the Amazon, where he stayed for eight days. “The children were fascinated by my prosthetic leg,” he said. “Seeing how these people lived and survived was the high point of my trip.” The low point? Reaching the settlement in the jungle via thousands of slick, moss-covered steps.

Blanchard didn’t mind the children’s curiosity, nor is he sensitive to questions from friends and strangers about his experience, or what he does, or how he copes. What he doesn’t like are expressions of pity and assumptions that he’s unable to have a fulfilling life. His understanding of himself only grew as years went by. “I knew I had to be in control of my own story, my own narrative,” he said. “It’s important to me to focus on what I can do, rather than what I’m unable to do.”  

It’s hard to figure out anything he might be unable to do. He graduated from George Washington University and worked for a while for veteran-centered nonprofits. He built a home, adapted for accessibility, in Crozet’s Westlake neighborhood with the help of Homes For Our Troops, a private nonprofit foundation. He married, and he and his wife Myra are the parents of two young children, 2 and 4 years old. 

Blanchard went on to find a profession that uses both his athletic skills and his desire to help people. He became a certified personal trainer, traveling to his clients’ homes or meeting them at a gym. 

More recently, he climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and persevered to the summit. “I almost didn’t make it,” he said. “But I knew I had to. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.” This summer, he attended the National Veterans Summer Sports Clinic, a yearly clinic hosted by the Veterans Administration, where he was reminded how setting athletic goals helps those traumatized by war and injury.

The purpose of the clinic is to give those injured in battle a chance to compete in the sports they love, whether surfing, cycling or sailing, but there’s another purpose in the yearly gathering. “It’s just good to talk with other veterans who have been through the same kinds of things,” he said.

Part of the summer clinic, the cycling part, was sponsored by the Wounded Warriors Project. Years ago, Blanchard graduated from hand controls, and so he rides on a regular bicycle with a prosthetic attached to the pedal. 

Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

His injury makes his life more difficult, so why seek out ways to tackle increasingly stressful and demanding situations? He examines that question, as well as a multitude of ways that people with trauma of all kinds move forward, in a book, and is presently seeking a publisher. Almost 20 years out from his original injury, he has a wisdom that few possess, and he is generous in sharing it. 

Meanwhile, he’d like to have more opportunities to work as a personal trainer for those with injuries, especially veterans, especially amputees, in his practice. True to his original promise to himself, he’s in charge of his life and his story, and welcomes any chance to help anyone who’s just starting out on a similar journey. 

Marine Cpl. Kevin Blanchard. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

Blanchard has adopted the economic term “post traumatic growth” to encourage anyone just emerging from a haze of trauma, shock or physical pain and injury. He’s observed that those with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or profound injuries may have a tendency to isolate themselves, to hide away, believing that no one else can understand them, or hoping to avoid pity and unwelcome attention. “That’s not the way,” he said. “No matter what your situation, there’s always a chance to figure out how to grow.” Veterans, especially, need to recapture some of the camaraderie and support they had with their fellow soldiers, and in the gym or on the playing field is a familiar way to find it. 

Blanchard would like to see more opportunities for people of all kinds to meet each other in Crozet: “It seems as though, since the pandemic, people aren’t out and about so much,” he said. He’s looking forward to the time when downtown Crozet has a central, open square where everyone can gather. 

His own growth has been so dramatic that he wouldn’t go back to his days before the 2005 Humvee accident. “In a way, it was a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I have no regrets.”

For more information about the Wounded Warrior Project, or to donate, visit woundedwarriorproject.org. 


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