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Wounded Soldier Seeks to Fulfill Long-time Dream

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 4, 2009 – Before he was wounded in Iraq while serving in the Army as a special operations soldier, Matt Nyman’s life revolved around family and outdoor activities. Now, despite having lost his right leg below the knee, he’s planning on fulfilling a long-time dream as he tries to conquer North America’s highest peak.

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Army Lt. Col. Marc Hoffmeister, top left; Army Spc. Dave Shebib, top right; retired Marine Capt. Jon Kuniholm, bottom left; and retired Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Nyman -- all wounded veterans -- are attempting to summit North America's highest peak, June 1, 2009. Courtesy photo

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Along with three other wounded veterans, two peer mentors and a guide, Nyman set out June 1 to climb Mount McKinley, also known as Denali because it’s located in Alaska’s Denali National Park and Preserve.

It’s a task that would be daunting for anyone, much less someone who’s suffered the injuries that befell Nyman when his helicopter crashed in Baghdad in July 2005.

“I was tossed into the rotor,” he said. “It cut off my right leg below the knee, cut and crushed my left foot, [and caused a] compound femur fracture and collapsed lungs.”

Nyman deals with pain in his left foot caused by the pressure of standing. He also suffers from considerable nerve pain, but he’s never stopped exploring his limits.

“So far, I have not run into any limitations, except that I cannot go as far or for as long due to fatigue and pain,” he said. He needs more rest daily than he used to, he said, and it’s generally more difficult just to get around. His rehabilitation is ongoing, he added.

But despite his injuries and the difficulty in overcoming them, Nyman said, the situation has had a positive effect in his life.

“The best thing that happened to me as a result of getting hurt was that I got to spend a tremendous amount of time with my son, who was born shortly after my crash,” he said. “I’m a better dad than I would have been had I not gotten hurt.”

All he’s ever dreamed about doing is climbing a big mountain, Nyman said. He had planned to start with Mount Rainier in Washington state. In fact, when he was training for selection to serve in Special Operations Command, he would run up to Mount Rainier’s base camp at about 10,000 feet above sea level, a 3,000-foot ascent from where he started. He carried 30 to 60 pounds, depending on the day he said.

“Since I got hurt, it just made me want to do it even more to prove to myself I can overcome anything,” he said. “I’ll do whatever it takes to do this expedition.”

At least until Operation Denali is complete, Nyman said, he considers returning to work full-time as a requirements specialist for Joint Special Operations Command as his greatest triumph since he was injured.

The Operation Denali team plans to reach the mountain’s peak and complete the climb by June 22.

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Related Sites:
Special Report: Operation Denali
Operation Denali Web Site

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