Commentary

Spinning, a lot, for war veteran heroes

Updated: September 14, 2011, 9:37 AM ET
By Duff McKagan | Special to ESPN.com

On Sunday, we all probably took a step back. The 10-year anniversary of 9/11 more than likely had different effects on all of us. A lot of us, it seems, at least knew of a family that had lost someone during the terrorist attacks. More still, have a friend who knew a family that was affected. Or, worst of all, some of you reading had, indeed, lost a loved one. It is possible to take that thought a step further, and muse that there were sports fans in the Twin Towers, that may have otherwise even been gandering at ESPN.com on this very day.

[+] EnlargeNoah Galloway, Tim Medvetz
Courtesy of Jason WillheimNoah Galloway and Tim Medvetz, right, get ready to ride and share a laugh, probably at Duff's expense.

No matter what, we were all profoundly changed by that day in 2001, and the days, weeks and months that followed.

Many young men and women saw these attacks as their clarion call to arms. Enlistment in our U.S. armed forces swelled. Not since Dec. 7, 1941, when Pearl Harbor was bombed, had we seen such a massive jump at enlistment offices all around the United States, according to National Public Radio. We had been attacked, and our young generation in America was going to try to make sure that events like these would not and could not happen again. This was their time to rise to this dark and evil occasion.

For obvious reasons, when we read newspaper accounts, or hear TV and radio reports on Afghanistan and Iraq, we hear about the "death toll." I am in awe of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. Whether you support these wars is not right now important, as I just want to focus you all on these brave men and women who travel to scary places, doing what they believe most often to be a calling to make our shores a safer place to live and breathe and work, travel, raise a family and, yes, watch and talk about sports.

But so many more of these young people have come back wounded from the battle-front. Forty thousand of them, as of this writing. Many of these kids have suffered dismemberment, organ damage, brain damage and other acute disfigurement or psychological effects. We can only imagine what else.

To be sure, there doesn't seem to be enough recognition and, more than that, support for these wounded veterans' post-return to the States. Post-return, to a new and alien life with physical and mental disabilities. I do know one guy, though, who is doing his best to single-handedly make a difference and dedicate his time, skill and energy to a few of these Vets.

I wrote last winter of my friend Tim Medvetz. He's a biker, a world-class mountaineer, an endurance athlete, a martial artist and a stubborn man who won't listen when people tell him certain things might just be "too difficult." No, Tim doesn't seem to understand the definition of the word "no," or its negative connotation.

Medvetz, too, found himself in a hospital bed after a nearly life-ending motorcycle accident that occurred on Sept. 9, 2001. When he regained consciousness two days later in the hospital intensive care unit, it was of course Sept. 11. His first conscious sight was of the North Tower coming down on the TV in his room; all of the doctors and nurses were faced away from Tim, agape and tear-filled-witnessing the horror.

As the days progressed for Tim in that hospital, it became clear that his life and well-being would forever be changed because of the bike accident. Tim, a native New Yorker, not only had to deal with the new paradigm we all faced in those days and weeks that followed 9/11, but he also had to come to grips with the fact that he would have to endure countless surgeries to his back, feet and legs, and that the doctors would have to employ titanium and fusing techniques just to put Tim back together again.

They said he'd be a cripple for life. But they couldn't put a titanium cage around the heart and pride of this dude. Nope, he found inspiration in that hospital bed. First, it was in his reading of Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air," a epic true tale of the 1996 Mount Everest tragedy. After all that the doctors had told Tim of the limitations that he would now face physically, he left that hospital two months later with a new mission: to summit Mount Everest. He did.

Flash forward to this past Sunday -- 9/11/11. Tim has a foundation now, The Heroes Project, a self-started non-profit organization in which Tim has pledged to guide an amputee veteran of the Afghanistan or Iraq wars, up each of the seven highest mountains on this planet.

[+] EnlargeMarissa Strock
Courtesy of Jason WillheimHer resilience and determination are incredible after what Marissa Strock, right, has endured.

Tim's call came when, on a flight home from some climb of his own, he ran across an Iraq vet who was just then coming home from Walter Reed Hospital in Bethesda, Md. Freshly outfitted with a prosthetic leg and arm, there was scant little more after-care for this young man. The kid was hopeless and not a little depressed. He felt that his life was over, and that he was maybe even forgotten to a certain extent. Tim asked him if he could stay in touch. One year later, Tim and this young man scaled the summit of Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro. Epic stuff.

On Sunday, Tim held a fundraiser for three of his new friends whom he will be climbing with:

Noah Galloway: He served in the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division during the invasion of Iraq and beyond. He then re-enlisted for a second deployment, during which a roadside bomb forced Noah to face life now, as a double amputee (left leg and left arm). Noah will climb Carstensz Pyramid in Indonesia with Tim next month.

Mark Zambon: A U.S. Marine Corps veteran, Mark will climb Mount Aconcagua in Argentina in January. Being a fairly recent double amputee has not seemed to outwardly affect Mark. It is no wonder. In reading his bio on the Heroes Project website, we learn that he redeployed with a partially amputated hand (from a bomb in Iraq). On his fifth tour, he was again hit by a bomb -- the one that took both of his legs.

Marissa Strock: Of Marissa's eighth attack in Baghdad as an MP, she remembers very little. When she came to from a months-long coma, she had found that she had lost a foot. Marissa has had to deal with so much more than we can ever even imagine. But from what I witnessed in person Sunday, she is gonna kick Tim Medvetz's tail all of the way up Mount Kilimanjaro come spring.

On a personal note, I had the pleasure and honor of being invited to this event. Tim is a joker to a large extent, and it always seems, to me, that I am the main focus of his jabs. I do climb with Tim, but nothing more than some very minor mountains here and there. I've ridden mountain bikes with him, too, and generally I try to simply keep up when he is in training for this or that.

On Sunday, he asked me to get on a spinning bike next to Noah for three hours (McKagan don't "spin"). "Three hours, Tim?!" I blurted.

"Yeah, dude. Listen Duff, if you wanna be a p**** and only ride for an hour, that's fine. Noah is riding for the whole three, and he has a prosthetic leg from above his knee, and is missing his left arm."

Ah, crap …

Luckily for me, Noah was a cool guy and sort of took it easy on me. Our goal was to ride for three hours, to raise money for the Heroes Project and these three vets' upcoming climbs. Noah is a badass, and has been training like a fiend. Neither of us are real big on spinning, though. No matter how tough you are, there is absolutely nothing you can do to toughen up your, uh, undercarriage.

Please visit The Heroes Project website for more information.

Musician Duff McKagan, who writes for Seattle Weekly, has written for Playboy.com and has his autobiography due out later this year, writes a weekly sports column for ESPN.com. To send him a note, click here and fill out the form.

Michael "Duff" McKagan, a founding member of Guns N' Roses, writes a weekly column for Playbook Sounds and is a passionate sports fan. McKagan is currently playing in Loaded and Velvet Revolver, is a prolific writer, including an autobiography, "It's So Easy: And Other Lies."

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