Never give up. Never quit! That is the motto of Travis Mills, one of only five surviving quadruple-amputee soldiers from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I firmly believe and often preach that one person can make all the difference in the world. Travis is a shining example. What a story of perseverance! I was amazed at his positive outlook, humor, confidence and devotion to help people, especially disabled veterans and amputees.
Travis recently met me in Minneapolis for a coaching session. In some ways, I felt like I was the student. A good friend of mine, Jac Arbour, called and said he wanted to surprise me and bring a couple people to Minneapolis for a session on street smarts. The "surprise" was Travis and his father-in-law, Craig Buck, who is also his business manager.
U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills was serving with the 82nd Airborne in Afghanistan during his third tour of duty. On the night of April 10, 2012 — four days before his 25th birthday — he was on patrol when he was critically injured from an improvised explosive device that blew off portions of both his legs and arms.
Travis thought he was going to die. Still, he asked the medic to treat two of his friends who suffered shrapnel injuries first.
He spent 19 months at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and went through 13 surgeries. At first, he was angry, embarrassed and upset. But he soon realized those feelings were selfish. He was determined not to just lie around.
Travis said: "It's amazing what you can accomplish once you make that all-important decision to go forward. I could choose to quit. If I'd wanted, people would have spoon-fed me for the rest of my life. I could have stared at the ceiling for the next 60 years and spent the rest of my life angry, frustrated, grieving and dismayed. But I chose to heal. I was the same 'me' as I'd always been. I was a man with scars who chose to live life to the fullest and best."
The key was believing he was going to get better. He said: "Keep going. Keep persevering. You're going to get through tough times. Never give up. Never quit."
Travis understands that attitude is extremely important. He knows that enthusiasm is contagious, and he wants to start an epidemic. Understanding that people need a bit of a push from time to time, doctors called on him regularly during his recovery to motivate others.
He said he was fortunate that he had a great support group, especially in his wife, Kelsey. He had a strong network of family and friends to lean on. These mentors let him know he could get better. He told me, "It's amazing what good things can happen when somebody knows you're cheering them on."
I mentioned that Travis has a good sense of humor, and he doesn't shy away from his past. For example, when we first met, he said we are going to have a BLAST. Since he knew I wrote the book "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," he said that he was bitten by a shark. To put me at ease, he said he wanted to "disarm the situation" and looked at where his right arm should be. After we finished dinner that first night, Travis took off his prosthetic hand and quipped, "Let me lend you a hand."
In September 2013, he founded the Travis Mills Foundation, a nonprofit organization that assists wounded and injured veterans and their families get a new chance at a better life. Through the Travis Mills Group, he consults with and speaks to companies and organizations nationwide, inspiring all to overcome life's challenges and adversity.
Travis' main message is one that many people can relate to: "Hard times come to everybody. When hard times happen, we have a choice to make. We can become discouraged and bitter, or we can choose to never quit. When life gets hard, the key is just to keep pushing forward. Instead of saying, 'It could be worse,' the key is to say, 'It's going to get better!' Then work with all your might toward that goal."
Mackay's Moral: Travis Mills is more than a war hero — he's a life hero.