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30 in Motion Volume 21, Issue 5 September/October 2011

Brian Washington

“I knew I could sit back on my butt, but meeting so many people who hadn’t done that helped me restructure my life,” Brian says. He went back to work on a Master’s degree in International Peace and Confict Resolution.

One of the frst courses Brian took after his amputation involved a trip to Costa Rica and a 3-mile hike. Rough terrain. “I felt that if I stayed focused I could do it. I did. I love challenges. In high school I learned to ski in one day. If some-body tells me, ‘You can’t,’ I want to do it even more.”

But Brian’s biggest challenge of all still lay ahead.

Captain Steven Rose is a military instructor in Norfolk, Virginia; this summer, he took on a group of people who wanted to become Navy MPs with civilian status.

Candidates must successfully run a horrifc timed obstacle course just to get into the program, but one trainee who did that promptly failed his frst test. He ran a mile and a half in 18 min-utes. The limit was 17.

Rose says, “The other Captain and I were screaming and yelling at him. I understood he was wearing a knee brace and I thought it might help to adjust it, so I said, ‘Let’s see that brace.’” The trainee was Brian Washington; when he rolled up his left pants leg, Rose says, “I looked at the other Captain.” No amputee had ever gone through the course before. Rose says, “I told Brian, ‘I’m going to push you. You’re going to give me 100 percent.’ He gave me 110.” In the end, Brian aced the test in 15 minutes. He passed the frearms require-ment of shooting a weapon balanced on a knee by inventing a new way to do it. “Brian has heart, determination. He goes right into the tough situation. He motivated the other students, the staff, and he motivated me,” Rose says. “He’ll be a good offcer.”

And so, on Friday, September 9, 2011, Brian Washington became the frst ampu-tee to graduate from the Navy’s Civilian Police Academy.

As for his long-term goals – and he does have them – Brian says he wants to fnish his degree, do a good job for the Navy, and “use my MA in public affairs. I hope to be able to help other people, to become a diplomat or work at the United Nations.”

He also wants to go back to frequent-ing black diamonds – the ski trails with the steepest drops, the slickest ice and the toughest challenge.

Is this kind of coping and accomplish-ment beyond most of us?

Not at all, says Catherine Mogil, a pro-fessor at the University of California Los Angeles. She’s co-developer of a national resiliency training program.

The FOCUS program (Families Over-coming Under Stress) is being used at 20 military bases across the country dealing with the stress of multiple deployments. Studies show FOCUS works – and its lessons can be learned by anyone. “We teach what some families do naturally to promote resiliency, so when an adverse life event happens, people can bounce back,” Mogil says. Regarding Brian’s story, Mogil says,”The frst thing that stands out

for me about this family is their beliefs about the world.” She adds, “Their belief system says there is life outside the family culture and we can be of service there. We volunteer together. We give back. We are part of something bigger than ourselves.”

FOCUS tries to help people raise their families that way, but any individual old or young can look to something larger and try to be of service, “clearly an important part of Brian’s ability to bounce back,” Mogil says.

The Washingtons openly share both grief and optimism, Mogil observes. FOCUS teaches families to develop a “shared narrative” about problems, to talk about ways their lives can be painful and their diffculties overcome. Having a broad network of sup-port helps. FOCUS teaches people to create more than one “family” – an extended kin group or a work family, a neighborhood group, a family of people who share beliefs or similar experiences. “In a life-altering moment, when you see that life is fragile, having those networks there is important,” Mogil explains.

So FOCUS encourages hobbies, team sports and extracurricular activi-ties: “They’re protective,” Mogil says. “If someone or something goes away, you can say, ‘Well, Aunt Susie is still here for me’ – and so is soccer practice.” Other protective factors include clear family expectations, learning to set goals and the ability to fnd meaning in trauma – to say something such as, “Well, I’m a stronger person because of this.”

Brian’s own advice? “I know how it feels to have your life changed by an amputation. But don’t let it stop you. Look at other people who made head-way. Set your goals and then let yourself feel pride when you achieve them.”

Photo provided by Carol Washington

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