Jon Mitchell

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October 10, 2012
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Making the most of memories

Ryan McIntosh can't remember the initial moment after his accident, but it's safe to say it's a day he'll never forget.

He'll never forget the day he lost part of his right leg while part of his Army regiment in Afghanistan. He'll never forget the recovery he had to make to get where he is today, and he'll never forget the things that helped him make the quick recovery he did.

Some of the memories he has of Rifle are what helped him recover from what could have been considered a debilitating injury. He shared some of those memories recently, stopping by a Rifle High School football practice to talk with this year's Bears.

The message he sent was more than memorable.

"His story is so powerful and so unique that it's definitely worth sharing," said Rifle High football coach Damon Wells, who coached McIntosh in high school.

McIntosh, who was on his way to Moab, Utah to be the best man in the wedding for his brother, Mikael, stopped by on the way from his current home at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He shared his story with the team prior to the Bears' game against Battle Mountain on Sept. 28.

"They were captivated, no doubt about it," Wells said.

Active high school athlete

McIntosh played football and ran track in high school and graduated in 2007. He received a scholarship offer to run track and play football at Graceland College, an NAIA Division I school in Lamoni, Iowa, but instead enrolled at Mesa State in Grand Junction because "it was closer to home and I had a girlfriend at the time."

That didn't work out, but it was there he met his wife, Hannah, enlisted in the Army and was deployed to Afghanistan on Oct. 8, 2010.

It was exactly two months after his deployment when McIntosh's unforgettable day happened.

Memories still missing

Walking in a ranger file and lined up sixth in the order of movement, he jumped over a small canal after five other members of his patrol had crossed the same spot.

An explosion happened when he landed after crossing. McIntosh can't remember the explosion even now; when he awoke following the initial impact, he was 10 feet in the air. He landed in a ditch close to 20 feet away from the blast.

McIntosh had stepped on a land mine but didn't know it at the time. He said he regained his composure while hearing members of his patrol yell "Where's Mac?" and "IED! IED!" which stands for improvised explosive device.

Not knowing where he was, McIntosh pulled himself out of the ditch he landed in before his squad leader found him and called a medic for assistance. And it wasn't until the medic had worked on his injury and McIntosh was being airlifted from the scene of the explosion that he saw the extent of his injury.

Half of McIntosh's right boot was missing.

"It's still surreal, even to this day," McIntosh said. "It seemed like more of a dream than anything. All I can remember was thinking about at that point was my wife and unborn son," he continued, speaking of his now 18-month-old son, Kaden.

"That was pretty difficult," McIntosh added. " I laid there crying, saying to myself, 'I was supposed to be a dad. I was supposed to be a dad.' I just wanted to be a good husband and dad for my son."

Breaking the news to his wife wasn't any easier. It took telling her more than once for her to comprehend what had happened. What followed, however, was a remarkably short recovery time. McIntosh was walking on his own close to six weeks after the accident.

Not slowing down

Now, McIntosh has a prosthesis for different occasions. He has one for normal walking situations, but he has another he uses for playing sports. He was wearing this one when he took advantage of a unique opportunity this past summer.

While participating in an event earlier this year called the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, an athletic event for wounded soldiers, McIntosh learned of a commanding officer who had connections to the United States Tennis Association. They were looking for ball people for the U.S. Open in Flushing, N.Y., and McIntosh eventually became one of the 250 people shagging balls at the event for $7.75 an hour.

"I'm a pretty confident person, and once I got out there I figured I could handle just about anything," McIntosh said. "I got a lot of attention and there were a lot of nerves. But I wasn't about to let anything that happened stop me by any means."

And McIntosh has used his experience in a positive way. He now serves as an adaptive sports coordinator on his base, helping wounded soldiers recover both mentally and physically from their injuries.

He spoke of these things when he came by the football team's practice. The biggest thing he spoke about, Wells said, was how playing at Rifle could have such an impact in how you conduct yourself.

"He told them that even though playing football at Rifle is such a small part of your life, the experiences you have can make a lasting impression on you. It was pretty powerful stuff," Wells said.

Future looks bright

That powerful stuff continues for McIntosh. He and his wife have another child on the way and, on Oct. 14, will turn 24. He's well aware that it's a birthday which probably shouldn't have come, but he's busy now taking advantage of the time he has.

A long-term goal is to participate in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. In the meantime, there have been plenty of memories McIntosh has attained in the past two years - even the stuff he can't remember - that he plans to put to good use.

"I'm very strong willed," McIntosh said. "No matter what God puts in front of me now, it'll be just another obstacle to clear. Just because I've lost my leg doesn't mean I have to stop doing anything I love."

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The Post Independent Updated Oct 10, 2012 05:18PM Published Oct 10, 2012 05:17PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.