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Paraplegic Sets Example for Other Disabled Veterans

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

SNOWMASS, Colo., April 6, 2006 – Michael Brickert is a man of three services, three conflicts, two paralyzed legs, and one can-do spirit that's inspired other disabled veterans.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Michael Brickert, a retired Air National Guard first sergeant, soars down the slopes during the 20th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic, at Snowmass, Colo. Photo by Robert Turtil

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

Brickert, 58, of Wise River, Mont., was a Navy diver during the Vietnam War. During Operation Desert Storm, he went from being an Army Reserve drill sergeant to pulling personal security detail. During Operation Enduring Freedom, he was deployed with the Washington Air National Guard to Diego Garcia to serve as first sergeant of the 462nd Air Expeditionary Group.

It was there, while riding a bicycle at high speed that Brickert slammed into an ammunition truck that came to a dead stop in front of him. The impact broke his back and left him paralyzed from the chest down.

But with 34 years of law enforcement work, including service as sheriff of Chelan County, Wash., when he was deployed to Diego Garcia, and 27 years of military duty under his belt, Brickert wasn't about to say goodbye to an active lifestyle.

He competed in biathlons and kept himself in top condition before his accident and remains an athlete today. This week, as he participates in the 20th National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic here, he's trying his hand at a new sport, fencing, while also enjoying cross-country and downhill skiing, and sled hockey.

"Life's different, but hasn't changed a whole lot," he said after living three years as a paraplegic. "It's not like we can't do things we used to do. We just do them differently."

The Winter Sports Clinic "pumps me up," he said, adding that it gives him an opportunity to interact with other disabled athletes. "I have learned so much from them that you just don't learn in the hospital," he said.

And just as Brickert has learned from others, he's sharing his own experience with other first-timers at the Winter Sports Clinic.

Army veteran Chris Melin, who lost his right leg in Vietnam and is here for his first clinic, said he's inspired by what he's seen in Brickert.

"When a guy in a wheelchair sees another guy doing something, that's mentorship," Melin said. "Mike has really helped me out. He has confidence and endurance, and made me realize that if he can do it, maybe I can do it, too."

Brickert said there's no secret formula to living a fulfilling life with a disability.

"Life is an attitude," he said. "If you have a positive attitude, then you are going to have a good life."

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