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NEWS | Jan. 12, 2024

I’ve been able to take my disability and help others.

By MaryTherese Griffin Army Recovery Care Program

One never knows what they can do until they are thrust into a situation beyond their control. Retired Army 1st Lt. Christopher Parks is someone who knows about instant change. After hosting a charity event for the Officers' Wives Club at Ft. Cavazos on Feb 28, 2014, he wasn’t feeling well and went to bed. The former combat medic and now physician's assistant says he knew he had strep throat and thought a good night's sleep would do the trick. He didn’t know he had a flesh-eating bacteria.

“I woke up April 15th at the Audie Murphy Medical Center in San Antonio without a leg. I was in a six-week induced medical coma- during that time, I had nine surgeries. Some were amputations; some were revisions- I spent six months in San Antonio and then was sent to the Ft/ Cavazos Soldier Recovery Unit (SRU).”

A few months later, they had the Warrior Games trials. “My squad leader kept bugging me, so I thought, ok, I will try out. I did, and I fell in love with the games. I didn’t understand at the time how therapeutic the games were. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”

He says he was always athletic and willing to try new things. Wheelchair basketball would be his latest jam. “I didn’t even know it was a thing… wheelchair basketball- are you kidding?” Laughs Parks whose social media handle is Hippity Hoppity Parks.

“Without a doubt, wheelchair basketball is my favorite adaptive sport. I had never heard of the sport until I lost my leg, and I think it's that way for many people. Whether you are wounded, ill, or sick, you don’t think of these things until you become part of this community of being disabled.”

He says it didn’t come quickly, but he knew he would dedicate his time to learning. “I was like a bull in a china shop at first. Before the amputation, I was six foot two. I’m still one of the tallest players on the court, so when I get on the court, there is a sense of normalcy being tall,” he said. Parks love not just the competitiveness but the camaraderie it creates. “Even though you go at it 100% on the court when it's all said and done, and you shake hands, and you go have a pizza and a drink afterward, and the world is good again.”

Parks trained beyond wheelchair basketball. He made Team Army and competed on Team US in swimming, track and field, and hand cycling at Multiple Warrior Games and Invictus Games. “It's funny how a traumatic event like losing your leg puts you in a corner, and you start thinking the best times are over, but in reality, the best times are just beginning.”

Parks said it was powerful, and he felt honored to wear Team Army and Team US on his uniform. “I was so honored. Emotionally overwhelming. I was going through something then that I never in a million years ever thought I would be experiencing, and that’s representing my country at Invictus. I competed in hand cycling on my birthday at Invictus in Sydney and was selected to meet Prince Harry that day. He met with me and wished me happy birthday, which was so cool. Can you seriously want more than that?”

Today, living in Weatherford, Texas, Parks and his wife Amy want to pay it forward by helping others facing change through a disability. “Without adaptive sports, I wouldn’t be where I am today. About a year ago, my wife and I formed a wheelchair basketball team here in Weatherford called the Texas Outlaws, and that would never have happened had it not been for her or if I had never been exposed to adaptive sports.” The new team made the playoffs and came in third place last month!

Giving back and volunteering have always been hallmarks of the Parks Family. “Before I moved to Weatherford, we lived in Copperas Cove; I was on a committee to help build an adaptive park on three acres of city land. I've been able to take my disability and try to help others out because that’s what it's all about.”

Parks says he’ll always be recovering from what happened to him. His wife Amy, who is proud beyond measure of his spirit and dedication, offers advice for others in similar amputee situations. “Recently, Chris has been experiencing phantom pains and started doing acupuncture, and it helps tremendously. Ask about it with your provider or at the VA. We are so glad we did.”

Hippity Hoppity is thriving in his life today with the support of family and friends. He is most thankful for the care he received and continues to receive. He urges today’s Soldiers to accept their change, accept help, and never give up. “Waking up out of a coma is not like they show you in a TV series or the movies. For me, it was you going to sleep, waking up, and bam- here’s your new normal, figure it out. The military was generous with physical therapy and adaptive devices to make this transition to my new life easier. I’m so happy they were there for me.”