On Sept. 18, 2010, Army Pfc. Tristan Eugene Segers, a 2002 graduate of Lake Stevens High School, was driving his armored patrol vehicle when a homemade bomb exploded in the road underneath Segers' floorboard.
One of the vehicle's 800-pound tires was found a half-mile away.
Just below his knee, Segers' right leg was gone. He had shrapnel sticking out of his eyeballs, face and arms.
After nearly two years of surgeries and rehabilitation in Texas, Segers, a handsome 28-year-old, moved back to Snohomish County last week in time to celebrate Independence Day with his folks in the home where he grew up.
Segers is married now to his high school girlfriend, Lindsay Blanchard. They are expecting a baby boy in October. He plans to return to culinary arts school this fall and they are about to move into an apartment in the Bothell area.
Until his official Army retirement date on Aug. 21, he is Cpl. Segers, the owner of a Purple Heart.
Segers wears shorts in the warm summer weather, not even pretending to hide his prosthetic leg. He has run a marathon. A specially designed gas pedal is on the left side of his slate-gray Toyota Tacoma truck.
Nothing is stopping him.
"Everybody's injury is different and everybody handles it in their own way. There is no way to measure it, whether it's physical or mental," Segers said. "I just kept telling the doctors that I didn't want my life to be different than it was before. Of course, the loss of a leg changed me. But it doesn't define me or the rest of my life."
Segers was enjoying a promising start to a career as a chef when the economic recession forced him to consider joining the Army. He figured he would serve in the family tradition set by his father and grandfather.
After grueling training in the hot Georgia sun, he landed a spot in the Army's 101st Airborne Pathfinder Division, an elite infantry unit, and was sent to Afghanistan in February 2010 to work on personnel recovery missions.
After the explosion, Segers was stabilized and flown to the Army hospital in Landstuhl, Germany.
"My eyes were completely bandaged and I was in a lot of pain. The stretchers were on bunks in the airplane, so when I woke up it felt like I was in a coffin," Segers said. "I was so glad to hear the voice of my buddy, Andrew Leonard, a guy from Boston who had been injured earlier."
Segers' dad, Jeff, remembers the phone call.
"He told me he couldn't talk to his mom yet," Jeff Segers said. "What I felt was a mixture of anger and a desire for retribution, then grief and then relief. We are so thankful he is alive."
It wasn't long before Jeff and Debra Segers were on their way to see their son at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
"And I gave notice at my job and got down there as fast as I could," said Lindsay Segers.
Tristan Segers can't say enough good things about the surgeons, psychiatrists, physical therapists and other staff at the Army hospital, as well as the numerous charitable organizations such as the Fisher House Foundation that help wounded veterans.
"I was truly cared for," he said. "The rehabilitation was rigorous and I pushed it, building back my muscles and learning to use the prosthetic leg.
"But they never told me I was doing a good job for fear that I might get complacent. There were many guys there who had given up on life."
Having Lindsay by his side made all the difference in his recovery, Segers said. The couple got married at the courthouse in San Antonio, forgoing the wedding of their dreams. They adopted a black Lab from a rescue shelter and kept on moving forward until he finished rehab.
"Sleep is still a problem for me and I have an anxiety disorder. It's hard. You really only want to open up with other guys who were there, too," Segers said.
"But I am OK. I am back in the land of good, healthy food. Fresh fish and local produce. I am very thankful to be alive.
"A lot of guys aren't alive and others struggle with suicide."
Segers isn't sure if the U.S. "war on terror" will ever be over. However, he doesn't want the people fighting in Afghanistan or the veterans to be forgotten.
"Most of the time when people see my leg, they think I've been in a car accident or something. But sometimes an old veteran will stop me and thank me for my service," Segers said. "I didn't do anything special, but if the progress I have made motivates another wounded veteran to keep going, then that's great."
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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