TRIBUTE FOR HEROES

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Back in early June, Joe received this email:

Hi Joe,

Congratulations on being chosen as a finalist for the PEOPLE and Major League Baseball’s “Tribute for Heroes” campaign!

The Team representative choosing will begin Sunday, June 9 on www.tributeforheroes.com. Be sure to encourage your friends, family and colleagues to support you online before June 30. 

In the meantime, starting June 10 both PEOPLE and MLB’s PR teams will be in touch as they pitch your amazing story. Again, congratulations and please confirm via email (“I agree”) you agree to the contest!

 

And boy did we start “encouraging” our friends, family and colleagues! We were showered with amazing e-mails, letters, messages, shout outs and shares from loads of people.  We connected with people that we haven’t spoken to in years.  The outpour of support was unbelievable.  Within a couple of weeks after the voting ended, we received this message:

 

Hi Joe,

 Congratulations! Per our conversation, you are the top vote getter for your club in the PEOPLE and MLB Tribute for Heroes campaign!

 It’s a real tribute to you and your extraordinary service.

 

We couldn’t believe it  – all of that voting, sharing, begging and he actually WON! We had about two weeks to get organized for our trip to New York.  Wait, I had two weeks to get ready for New York – Joe just throws some stuff in a bag and jumps on a plane.  I, on the other hand, need to organize myself, the animals, the boys ….. and the list goes on.

 

We are so fortunate to have my mom here in Columbus to help out.  I got the babysitters lined up, packed the boys and sent them to MeeMa’s.

 

Our trip was a whirlwind from start to finish.  A driver picked us up at our house and delivered us to the Atlanta airport.  That was a first! Once we arrived in NYC, we were taken to the Grand Central Hyatt.  Our week was filled with great people, amazing events and a trip that we will never forget.

9/11 Memorial

9/11 Memorial

 

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My favorite part was the All-Star Gala.  This was the party of all parties.  It was held on the USS Intrepid.  The atmosphere was electric with more food, drinks and music than I have ever seen in one place.  We saw The Roots in concert and danced – for hours.  Well, Joe didn’t dance but I sure did.  Joe’s favorite part was the All-Star Game.  He and the other finalists were escorted out onto the field to meet their favorite player.  Joe later told me that it was “exhilarating to be there in the moment”.

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We left New York with our hearts full and with great respect for all of the heroes and their guests on the trip.  We met wives, girlfriends, mothers, fathers, grandchildren and friends – all amazing people who are supporters of their “hero”.  We left with a camaraderie that is unparalleled and one that we want to hold on tightly to.

 

Everyone on the trip was well deserving and a joy to be with.  We are honored to have been included with them.

 

Thank you to everyone who voted.  Thank you Mrs. Zada Feightner and Nico Marcolonga for nominating Joe.  I wish we could have brought you along to share the experience with us.

 

We will carry these memories with us and cherish them always.

 

-Kimberly

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2012 Army 10-Miler

We had a fast and furious weekend in D.C.  Joe and I flew in Saturday morning and had lunch with great friends.  If you have never eaten at Ted’s Montana Grill …. you should.  The food was amazing and the company was even better.  We were with our dear friends that we met through No Greater Sacrifice, Rebekah, Andy and sweet Anna Ruth Lovorn.  No Greater Sacrifice is the organization that recognized Joe in 2011 and awarded him the “Freedom Award”.  This is what sparked this whole new adventure that we are living! After lunch, we were able to make a trip up to Bethesda to visit our injured Special Operations friends.  It was humbling to be back in the hospital seeing the guys.  The visit reminded us of how far we have come since our time in Walter Reed.  Our country has been at war for a long time and it is easy to forget about the damage that war leaves behind but please please keep these people in your prayers.  They are fighting for their lives day in and day out.

Sunday morning started VERY early! We got our gear and headed out to the race start.  Joe ran for Brooke Army Medical Center.  BAMC is the home of the Center For Intrepid (aka CFI).  This is where Joe learned to walk/run and also where his prosthetists are located.  They are great at what they do and keep us well supplied with legs.  I ran for

No Greater Sacrifice Endurance.  No Greater Sacrifice supports the children of our nation’s fallen and wounded Service members. They deliver scholarships and resources to improve their quality of life through the pursuit of higher education.

It’s funny – even though I am married to Joe and I see/deal with his amputation on a daily basis – I will never get used to being in a large group of injured soldiers.  Makes me teary EVERY TIME! As we walked through the crowd with this morning, it was an eerie feeling to have so many people turn and stare. I am always in awe of Joe in these situations – he doesn’t seem to notice the stares and comments – me, not so much.  When we finally reached the start line, it was such a relief to be in the company of all of the wounded soldiers where everyone was in the same boat.  Once we arrived at the start, it was like a reunion.  We ran into friends that we have met along the way in this journey.  Instead of people who feel sorry for us, we are surrounded by laughter, encouragement and jokes.

Ten minutes before the start, Joe is all business – making sure his regular leg is at the finish line and stretching.  He gives me a quick wink and he’s ready to go.  When they shot off the canons, he took off – our friend Harvey Naranjo ( a therapist at Bethesda) told me that he was going to try to run with Joe…. I think he stayed with him for less than 1/4 mile 🙂 I was so proud to be able to watch Joe take off – after a mile, he was a distant yellow dot with the word “Persevere” on his back.

Persevere – Continue in a course of action even in the face of difficulty-
that is exactly what he has done.  Joe finished the the 10-miler in 1:13:38.  I couldn’t be more proud.
To learn more about No Greater Sacrifice : http://www.nogreatersacrifice.org/
To learn more about the CFI : http://www.aaos.org/news/bulletin/dec07/research4.asp

Hartford Courant

Bristol’s Bravest? Kap Fits

September 26, 2008|By JEFF JACOBS

Joe Kapacziewski turned down an interview request for Thursday morning. He asked if he could do it right away Wednesday night. Now, what in the world could be so pressing that a home state kid would inconvenience the nation’s oldest continuously published newspaper?

“I have to jump out of an airplane,” Kapacziewski said.

Oh.

And then you think about it for a minute.

Staff Sgt. Joe Kapacziewski is jumping out of an airplane with one leg.

Whoa!

We live on a peculiar planet in peculiar times. An NFL quarterback or a major league outfielder plays through an injury and we’re ready to knight him Galahad. A team of American golfers sinks a few putts, holds up the flag and we’re stirred to great patriotism. True, Joe Kapacziewski’s paycheck may be meal allowance for Alex Rodriguez, but once you learn about this Army Ranger you’ll have no doubt who you’d have battling in the clutch.

Kapacziewski, 25, will compete Saturday in the Men’s Health Urbanathlon in New York, an interesting race that includes a 52-story stair climb at 7 World Trade Center and a taxicab hurdle at Battery Park. Just as the U.S. Ryder Cup victory did not make the world safe for democracy, Kap will not threaten to make the 2012 Olympic triathlon team. This neither diminishes the golfers nor Kapacziewski, but it points to the power of a group of elite athletes uniting for a common cause and the glory of one soldier/athlete who knows nothing but that shared commitment.

This is what you need to know. After being shredded by an enemy grenade in northern Iraq in 2005 during his fifth tour of combat duty, Kap had his right leg amputated eight inches below the knee. Not only did he stay in the military, he stays fit and stands ready with the 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, Ga. By Kapacziewski’s count, there are about 50 active-duty amputees in military service and he is one of only a handful operating in the same capacity they were before undergoing amputation.

That fact is as close as Kap comes to bragging. The dude gives new definition to playing hurt.

Born in Durham, he played football and wrestled at Bristol Eastern. His dad was killed in a car accident when he was 12 and, learning early the blows life can deal, he was raised by his grandparents. Kapacziewski has spent seven years in the Army. That lines up with 9/11, but he did not enlist as a reaction to the day our nation was brought to its knees. He already had signed as a delay entry.

“I was signed to go in Sept. 18, 2001. Lo and behold . . . a week after 9/11, I was in basic training,” Kap said. “There are guys who have a whole career in the military, do 20 years and never see combat. I’ve been able to stay busy.”

He is not allowed to discuss the specifics of what happened that day in October 2005, but the Bristol Press, at the time, quoted a friend of Kapacziewski as saying a hand grenade was dropped into an armored personnel vehicle.

His right leg was shattered below the knee. He had severe arm injuries, including brachial and median nerve damage. He took considerable shrapnel in his hip. He spent 6 1/2 months at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where they tried to save the right leg.

“It wasn’t healing properly,” Kap said. “I was having a lot of pain and motion issues. After 15 months, I finally had it amputated.”

For three months, he still had phantom pains. He went to the Center for the Intrepid at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio for five months of rehab. Toes that aren’t there still tingle from time to time.

“But everything is good,” he said.

Leg, arm, hip, skin grafts . . . he has undergone 42 surgeries. That’s not a misprint. Asked if he had enough of hospitals, Kapaczewski said, “I have.”

That’s it. Two words for all the pain and suffering. Heroes evidently don’t need many words.

“It’s hard for me to look at it that way,” Kap said. “The way I see it is I made my commitment to the military. They’ve trained me to do a certain job and that’s my livelihood.

“I work with a great bunch of guys who really enjoy what they do. That, to me, is what makes it worthwhile. Our unit has a lot of camaraderie. It’s like going to work every day with your best friends. And when you’re around warriors every day, that is what you want to do. Guys get hurt, guys get beat up, they just want to heal up and get back doing what we do.”

So Staff Sgt. Kapaciewski goes on marching. He goes on training. He goes on airborne training missions. Thursday’s jump was his fifth from a plane on his prosthetic. He has no plans to get out. He had been to Iraq three times and to Afghanistan twice when that grenade changed his life. He expects the sixth deployment next year.

“My prosthetics are great, I basically use two,” Kapacziewski said. “I haven’t had one fall off during a jump. Haven’t had one break. I do everything everyone else does.”

The army wouldn’t have it any other way. It is not a place for sentiment. And among the Rangers, the best of the best, there is even less.

“This is the way I explained it to my chain of command,” Kapacziewski said. “If someone else breaks an ankle, they’re getting sent home. If I break my prosthetic, I’ll go back, put another one on and I’m good to go in five minutes.”

He competes in triathlons. He runs races. On this weekend, he will compete as part of a relay team for Operation Rebound, sponsored by the Challenged Athletes Foundation. Kapacziewski figures once he hands off the time chip, he’ll continue on to the finish line unofficially. Then he’ll keep on running and jumping.

And the next time you wonder whatever happens to the best of our high school athletes, the best our state has to offer, you’ll have at least one answer.

jjacobs@courant.com