AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — Tim Vaughn thought he was getting a haircut that day in October 2014. But his barber snapped, and Vaughn left the shop in an ambulance with severed muscles in his neck.
The incident, Vaughn said, brought up traumatic experiences from his time in the Navy.
Vaughn, a Marysville resident, used his participation in the Department of Defense Warrior Games earlier this month at the U.S. Air Force Academy to continue his recovery — his “lifelong” recovery, as his wife, Monica Vaughn, described it.
Vaughn competed in track and swimming in his first Warrior Games. His best finish was fifth place in the 800-meter race.
The games made him more aware of his need to keep healing, he said.
“It kind of opened my eyes to strive and say, ‘Oh my God, I really have something,’ ” he said.
U.S. Navy Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman Joe Paterniti, a 1983 Bothell High School graduate, also competed at the Games.
The Everett paramedic has been attached to a voluntary Navy training unit for three decades.
He competed in rowing, field, powerlifting and cycling. All but field were new sports for the Games. Paterniti’s best finish was fourth place in a rowing sprint.
The Games are tough, he said.
“It’s training your mind to being really comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he said in a Department of Defense story about the competition.
Throughout Vaughn’s time deployed in 2011 and 2012, he saw children who had been shot and he himself had to avoid gunfire in areas such as Kabul, Afghanistan.
But on Oct. 13, 2014, Vaughn was stopping by for a routine haircut at Vic’s Barbershop in Imperial Beach, California. It was impossible for him to be prepared for what happened next.
As an active-duty Navy petty officer up for promotion, Vaughn was recovering from hernia surgery and yearning to get back to work. The barber, Daniel Flores, asked Vaughn if he wanted a neck shave. Vaughn, thinking nothing of it, agreed, preoccupied with looking at pictures his wife had sent of her parents’ new home.
Flores, whom Vaughn had not met before that day, took out the straight razor and cut his neck. Vaughn shoved him off, but not before Flores stabbed him in the same area.
Bleeding profusely, Vaughn reacted quickly. He stumbled to the back of the shop and laid down with his feet up. He recalled himself yelling, “Call 911! I’m a 32-year-old male, I’m O positive and I’m going to need a blood transfusion.”
Another barber came out of the bathroom and Vaughn directed him to grab some towels and squeeze him in the neck until he “couldn’t talk.”
The first responders were surprised to see that Vaughn’s blood pressure was so low. He might have saved his own life.
Flores received a 10-year prison sentence for attempted murder.
Vaughn spent the next few years doing his best to get better. He noticed himself getting angry often, mostly since people couldn’t seem to comprehend what happened to him.
“I don’t think I’ve gotten the attention I needed, so I was very bitter,” Vaughn said.
That anger was alleviated after Vaughn discovered the Navy Safe Harbor Foundation in November 2017.
Through the organization, Vaughn found the Warrior Games. He qualified for four events.
“It’s just getting up every day, and believe it or not, just having something to look forward to,” Vaughn said.
Competing has changed his outlook. He found camaraderie and learned to depend on others, he said.
“You’ve got to allow people to help you,” Vaughn said. “Me talking about it is kind of therapeutic. I’m now an open book — here I am, this is who I am.”
The Grady Sports Bureau is part of the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.