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Loran Smith Columnist

Published Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Wounded warriors

Ross Mason is someone you find easy to admire.

Life dealt him the most devastating of hands, but he avoided bitterness and took on a cloak of altruism that should inspire all of us.

You must know his tragedy to appreciate his story.

One day, he was riding his bike, as he often did, immersed in the great outdoors with nature showering its blessings on him. As he pedaled freestyle in the countryside, a bee flew into his helmet. As he tried to rid himself of this unwelcomed menace, he lost control and crashed into a tree. In a brief moment, his life was changed forever — he became paralyzed from the chest down.

Athletic, enterprising, selfless, and with an inclination to make this a better world, Ross dealt with his ill fortune, which went beyond a stiff upper lip. He would make something out of his life. He would be an example for others — like those young men who come home from the Middle East with their bodies torn asunder by war. He felt for those guys.

He would explain to them that there is no explanation why life gives some of us the back of its hand. After all, there is not much you can do when it happens — it is how you deal with those circumstances when fate frowns on you.

A lemon can achieve its greatest usefulness when it is turned into lemonade. Ross wanted his life to reflect this attitude, and the positive one he adopted was joined by a generous attitude of sharing. This is why he wants us to realize that just a little bit of support goes a long way for those who served our country and came home in hopeless condition.

Already, this young man has a resume that reflects accomplishment in a short period of time since graduating from Georgia Tech where he was president of the student body. Investigate his resume, and you learn that he is chairman of several organizations, most of them charities.

Ross is the founder of the Healthcare Institute for Neuro-Recovery and Innovation (HINRI), which is partnering with Callaway Gardens and Warm Springs to create one of the nation’s leading healing environments for wounded soldiers and their families. He would like for you to know about a gathering coming up at Callaway Gardens, April 12-15. There will be a national summit with the Joint Chiefs and the nation’s top non-profits and foundations, whose collective goal is to find ways to assist the Georgia Warrior Alliance.

A printed fact sheet explains what the GWA is all about.

“Its aim is to help returning soldiers and their families deal with the symptoms of stress, learn about the transition from combat to the home-front environment, become educated about health, diet, exercise, and personal life skills, adjust to life at home, and reconnect with nature, work colleagues, peers, and family through our LIFE curriculum. This is done through a two-week residential period for soldiers who have just returned from deployment and their immediate families in the environment of Callaway Gardens and adjacent Pine Mountain, Warm Springs and FDR State Park.”

When I spoke with Ross a few weeks ago, an image of Lou Brissie kept flashing in my consciousness. Lou, with a promising big league baseball career in front of him, went off to war in the early 1940s, and his left leg was badly mangled from an exploding bomb in Italy. He wouldn’t let the doctors remove his shattered leg, saying, “I’m a ball player.” The doctors explained that amputation might save his life. “I’ll take my chances,” Lou said. He survived the war and pitched seven years in the majors with the Philadelphia A’s and the Cleveland Indians, but has walked with braces most of his life.

Every week, Lou visits with “Wounded Warriors” at Fort Gordon. Like Ross Mason, he has a story that should inspire young men who have been devastated by war to understand that attitude has marvelous healing powers.

For the rest of us, we should find a way to support all wounded warriors. We might not have a personal story to tell those young men but we could reach out to them, as Ross and Lou — two generations apart — are doing.

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