Accepting the Challenge to Push Yourself Further

By Brian Smith

Aaron thought he knew what tough was.

His years as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal technician in the Army put him in some of the most dangerous places on Earth. But on Dec. 8, 2011, his idea of strength changed when his boot met an improvised explosive device.

“The blast broke every bone in my face, cracked my skull, took 70 percent of my hearing, crushed my sinuses taking my smell, and destroyed my eyes, plunging me into darkness forever,” he said.

While his physical recovery was quick, the deepest injuries — those unreachable by scalpels and morphine — would take longer. It was a tough blow for an independent, type A battle-hardened soldier to be “thrust into a position of utter dependence on others,” he said.

“I worried about how I would never again see my children grow, lead my team into battle, or look into my wife’s beautiful eyes and tell her ‘I love you’ without saying a word,” he said. “And those were the big things … I had yet to discover the difficulties in pairing my socks, distinguishing pepper from cinnamon in the cabinets, or not getting lost walking into the abyss that lies beyond the front door of my own home.”

He slowly began to look at his new position in life better. Running, hiking, tandem cycling — his new passion was to get out and rediscover the world. Along that journey he learned of blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer, who is also a co-founder of No Barriers, and the No Barriers Soldiers program.

Erik’s accomplishments, including climbing Mount Everest, inspired Aaron to “push the limits that I perceived were in front of me.”

Reaching the summit of Mt. Mariposa, an 18,000-foot peak, was a “profound moment” in Aaron’s life, he said.

“I can’t remember a time when I’ve been quite that exhausted, except on the battlefield,” he said.

Coming home, Aaron didn’t stop pushing himself. In Florida with no mountains to speak of, he started running. He set a goal to run two marathons and then was convinced to run another two — four marathons in four months.

Prior, he’d never run further than five or six miles at once. He’d find a whole new level of tough.

“Running in the Army? That was out of survival,” he said.

From his Army days, where he and his team would compete to be first in line for field assignments, Aaron developed a motto —

challenge accepted.

“It was about doing something bigger than I’d done before,” he said. “It was facing these challenges and whatever lay ahead, that you weren’t afraid to dare, you weren’t afraid to face those barriers.”

Listen to our full interview with Aaron below. And be sure to register for our 2015 Warriors programs, nominate a veteran you think could benefit from our work, or take the No Barriers Pledge with the rest of our community.