It’s been more than 10 years since Jared Lenahan joined the Navy, and you could say it’s been an eventful decade for him.
After signing up in June 2009, he spent five years at Camp Pendleton in California working in the field at the Marine Corps Scout Sniper School and Basic Reconnaissance Course. He deployed to Afghanistan as part of Provincial Reconstruction Team Uruzgan that included the Army, Australian Infantry, Slovakian Civil Affairs, USDA, State Department, and other entities, where he worked as a combat medic, combat cameraman, and public affairs officer — a man of many hats, to be sure.
But it was when he went to Sicily after his deployment that his life took a sudden an unexpected turn. He was climbing with his friends when he plunged 40 to 60 feet off a mountain, breaking just about every bone in his body and narrowly escaping death.
“I don’t remember the fall at all,” he said. “The people I was with had to wave down a random Italian guy. He didn’t even speak English. They brought him over to me, and they said it looked like a murder scene. My leg was up by my head.”
Lenahan was transported to a Sicilian hospital via helicopter, and his long journey to recovery began. He was soon transported to Germany for a couple of weeks and then sent to Walter Reed for the next five years. He spent two and a half years in an electric wheelchair, and “lost count” of the surgeries. All the while, he wasn’t sure if he was going to keep his right leg. He wore five different external fixators on that right leg over three and a half years.
Two and a half years ago, Lenahan got the last external fixator in his leg removed, and he got right back into what he loved the most: climbing. In June of 2018, he was able to make it onto the USA Climbing Paraclimbing Team, capping an incredible recovery.
“Last year I made it to 8th place in the world,” he said. “This year I bumped it up to 7th in the world. It’s been quite the journey.”
It was not an easy path to take. Besides managing an enormous amount of pain and relearning to walk multiple times, Lenahan had developed an addiction to methadone.
“They had me on the medication they usually give to people to get off heroin,” he said. “I was on that for a long time on what my doctor called a truck-stopping dose. Eventually, I got to the point where I decided to just stop taking it.”
Going almost cold turkey on opiates is one of the most difficult things any person can do, but Lenahan was that determined to no longer be dependent on the drug.
“That wasn’t fun by any means for a good — let’s estimate a month or two,” he said. “There’s lots of sweating, not being able to sleep, and a bunch of other stuff you don’t want to know about.”
However, Lenahan eventually made it to the other side. And once he did, his thoughts turned to climbing. April 2018 was his first competitive climbing event, held at Earth Treks, the local climbing gym in Rockville, Md.
“This is how I found out about adaptive climbing,” he said. “I found the event through Facebook, read the description and exclaimed, ‘wait a minute, this is something I can do!'”
Out of eight competitors in that event, he finished in first place for his category and immediately set his sights on the next challenge. He and a buddy took a road trip from Maryland to Ohio to compete in the USA Climbing Adaptive National Championship in June of 2018, where he ended up in 3rd (his buddy got 2nd). That was good enough to get him a trip to Austria as part of Team USA.
He was named Wounded Warrior of the Year in 2019, and climbing hasn’t been the only thing he’s busied himself with.
“The goal is to start my own nonprofit,” he said. “I want to open a climbing gym for adaptive athletes and wounded warriors.”
Thanks to the Navy Safe Harbor Foundation, he was able to go through a program to explore 3D printing in OPNAV N415 with the goal of putting a 3D printing room in a gym so that it can print prosthetics and other adaptive equipment for people who want to be challenged but aren’t able to afford the expensive prosthetics necessary to undertake those challenges. The goal is that the 3D printing room would have an iPad with a catalog full of adaptive equipment that could be printed with the press of a button.
Lenahan also plans to build an Adaptive Obstacle Course so whether you’re in a wheelchair, blind, or a quadruple amputee, you’ll have a way to test yourself physically.
In the meantime, he was one of 15 chosen out of 80 applicants to the Dog Tag Bakery Fellowship Program. The program is geared toward post-9/11 veterans with service-connected disabilities who want to explore entrepreneurship and civilian careers. Lenahan hopes it’ll give him additional resources and networking to help turn the gym into a reality.
Lenahan’s life is a lot different from where it was when he first signed up to join the Navy in 2009. He’s excited to see what’s next and is ready to give back to multiple communities that he is a part of.
“It’s really crazy to think about where I was,” he said. “It’s been an incredibly long journey.”
Photos courtesy Jared Lenahan