My accident occurred in 2007, on St. Patrick’s Day, of all days. I was working in the engine room aboard the USS Emory S. Land, completing repairs to a pump on a fresh-water collection tank, when a steam-relief valve opened above me. I was blasted with 650-degree dry steam at greater than 150 psi (pounds per square inch). It was seven seconds of pure agony.
I sustained burns to more than 22 percent of my lower body; my entire left leg from my ankle to knee had to be skin-grafted. I was burned on my right leg and my upper-left arm, and I had inhalation burns and second-degree contact burns to my face and neck.
I had to endure a long and very painful road to recovery. Though I was out of the hospital and back on the ship in about three months, I had to wear compression garments 23 hours a day for a year. Getting active again also was a struggle. At first, just walking a hundred yards left me completely exhausted, and I would pass out for a few hours afterwards. I had to constantly push myself to get up and walk again.
So, as you might imagine, I was incredibly proud to participate in the inaugural Warrior Games in 2010 – a competition among elite wounded warrior athletes – a little more than four years after my accident. I didn’t let my injury hold me back on the track, on the volleyball court, or in life.
I am not a quitter. And I refused to let my injury get the better of me. After I was hurt, I told my commanding officer to hold my billet, because I wanted to return to the ship. I probably could have been medically retired, but, if given the option, was determined to stay in the Navy and continue doing my job. And this year marked my 13th anniversary in the service.
Being on active duty has helped me spread the word about Navy Wounded Warrior (NWW) -Safe Harbor, a program that’s been really beneficial for me. Initially, I didn’t consider myself a wounded warrior; I wasn’t wounded in combat. But I now realize that doesn’t matter. If you are a service member, and you are seriously hurt or diagnosed with a life-changing illness, NWW is there to help. Too few people in the Navy know about NWW, but I hope to change that.
I have been back to the Warrior Games two more times since 2010, and, after competing in the recent Wounded Warrior Pacific Trials in Honolulu, I have been named a member of the 2013 Team Navy-Coast Guard. And I can’t wait to play alongside other wounded warriors, my friends, once again.
Earlier this year, my first child, Anthony Jameson Dayton, was born. My bronze medal from the 2012 Warrior Games hangs in his room. When he’s old enough to understand, I will explain to him how I earned that medal and why I am so proud of it. I will show him photos of my team members, and tell him how we all came together, no matter what injuries or illnesses we faced. And I will tell him that, even if you get hurt, you are not out of the fight. You just have one more hurdle to overcome as you work towards your goal – but success is still within your reach.