When retired Master Sgt. Cedric King came to watch the professional athletes arrive on the Red Carpet of ESPN’s Excellence in Sports Performance Awards (ESPYS) in Los Angeles, California, little did he know he would be joining the stars on the crimson ribbon of honor.
It all started when the American Forces Network’s (AFN’s) Air Force Staff Sgt. Rob Harnden and Marisa Gaona saw King in his dress blues watching the stars arrive on the Red Carpet. It was easy to pick King out from the crowd. He was the only one in his Army Service Uniform, with a chest full of ribbons and in a wheelchair.
After AFN interviewed Master Sgt. King, two Los Angeles TV stations came over to interview the former Soldier and the ESPN staff gave him a place of honor on the Red Carpet.
King, formerly with the 82nd Airborne Division, an infantryman and Airborne Ranger, lost his legs to an improvised explosive device during his third deployment while on patrol July 25, 2012 in Afghanistan.
“Today we are coming out and supporting all of the ‘challenged athletes’ doing great things,” said King. “Coming back from the battlefield and showing people it’s not about what happens to you, it’s what you do about it.”
What King has shown people is losing your legs doesn’t mean you’ve lost everything. He puts on his artificial limbs and runs.
“I’ve completed the Boston Marathon twice, finished the New York Marathon and I finished my first Iron Man Half-Marathon,” said King.
ESPN honored athletes such as King in its award ceremony, not just on the Red Carpet. The Best Male Athlete with a Disability Award went to Triathlon competitor Krige Schabort. The Best Female Athlete with a Disability Award went to swimmer Becca Meyers.
Athletes walking down the Red Carpet acknowledged King too. They shook his hand. They posed for photos. They thanked him for service and sacrifice. But the star athletes were honoring far more than just King. He was the visible, unofficial representative of his uniformed brothers and sisters who have served, or still serve.
Scores of athletes, such as former boxers Laila Ali and Evander Holyfield, took time on camera to give AFN messages of support for U.S. military personnel now serving their country. But it was a former Soldier whose thoughts resonated just as strongly.
“Life dealt me a bad hand of cards,” said Master Sgt. King, “but it doesn’t give you an excuse to play a bad game.”