For one former active-duty sergeant and Army Ranger diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), helping train young soldiers who aspire to call themselves Army Rangers is just what the doctor ordered, Dan Lamothe writes for the Washington Post.
ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that can eventually leave a person unable to speak or walk and is fatal. Timothy Spayd, 53, was diagnosed with the disease after losing 26 pounds in six weeks and suffering from severe back and spine pain.
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Spayd says the diagnosis left him in a difficult place. "I was literally sitting home dying. I was going downhill fast," he recalls.
But about two years ago, Spayd was presented with a unique opportunity. A friend and former Ranger School graduate reached out to the Army for what Spayd calls a "Make a Wish" type of request. The friend asked if Spayd could visit and help out at a Ranger School in the swamps of the Florida Panhandle. And since 2013, Spayd has been able to assist 19 Ranger classes.
At first, Spayd was focused on maintaining his physical abilities. "I wanted to kind of physically push myself past what I would have done at home and to try to get back to the Ranger standard with pushups and everything," he says. But joining the classes has also given him a sense of purpose and comradery. "Rangers is definitely a brotherhood that I've tapped back into," he says.
A warrior spirit
Most students in the 6th Ranger Training Battalion don't know that Spayd—who sometimes walks through chest-deep water to help trainees cross a river during the third phase of Ranger School—has ALS, Lamothe says. But Spayd has still faced challenges with the trainings because of his condition. Each day working with students requires several days of rest, Spayd suffers from occasional involuntary muscle contractions, and he once suffered a fall that gave him two broken ribs.
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But, Lamothe writes, "Spayd said he thinks he already would have been dead without Ranger School and the change in attitude it prompted for him." His attendance has also made a big impression on the few instructors who know his situation. One, Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Sullivan, says Spayd "embodies the Ranger spirit."
Says Spayd, "I'm a soldier, and I'm a warrior and I think that's just how I'm made," adding, "I'm just going to be the one who keeps doing what I can" (Lamothe, "Checkpoint," Washington Post, 8/5).
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