For many, Luke Air Force Base is a place where people work and physically train to maintain the Air Force fitness standards, but for Marine Cpl. Ivan Sears, it is a place that can lead to a spot on the Paralympic Team for international competition.
Sears joined the Marine Corps in October of 2008 as a fourth-generation Marine. During his first deployment to Afghanistan in 2010, Sears was injured when a roadside bomb detonated, launching shrapnel into his arms and legs and leaving him with a concussion. Sears rejoined his unit for a three-day operation after recovering and being medically cleared.
On the last day of patrol, his unit returned to the forward operating base. It was here, at the closure of his first patrol back from his first injury, Sears stepped on an improvised explosive device buried inside the doorway to the compound. The blast propelled him 20 feet into the air, instantly amputating his legs. As his body hit the ground, all Sears could taste was dirt and see a cloud of dust around him. Members of Sears’s unit quickly treated his wounds, saving his life. He was medically evacuated from the FOB for further treatment.
Sears worked his way out of an emotional two-month slump after months of painful and intense physical therapy learning how to operate his body again. He began working toward a new mission of wheelchair racing.
“I had to push through it,” Sears said. “Life is going to live on. No one is going to stop living, so I had to learn to basically grow up again, to relearn everything.”
Wheelchair racing is open to athletes with any qualifying type of disability. Amputees, spinal cord injuries, cerebral palsy and partially sighted when combined with another disability may qualify to participate in the wheelchair racing event. A modified wheelchair with the standard two side wheels and a third wheel on the front is used in sprints, middle-distance and long-distance racing. This became Sears’s new passion.
Sears is still an active-duty Marine and performs two jobs for the Marine Corps. He works with families of wounded warriors at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. He takes care of all their needs so their full attention can be given to their wounded family member. His second job is representing the Marine Corps, competing in the Paralympics.
“Never give up on life,” he said. “Never take anything for granted, especially the little things. That is what I’ve learned after being deployed and coming home injured. You appreciate all the little things in life because you’re here to enjoy it.”
Sears has competed nationally and internationally and has won gold and silver medals at the 2013 Warrior Games. He hopes to join the U.S. Paralympic Team one day and be on the top podium receiving the gold.