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The Hey abby Team - Mar 04 2023

A Warrior's Return

One Grower's Journey from Navy Veteran to Paralympian

2023 Anniversary Special Edition

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(DC1 Padgett at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro with his service dog, Bayley Madison Padgett.)

(on the streets prior to racing.)

(DC1 Padgett at the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro with his service dog, Bayley Madison Padgett.)

(on the streets prior to racing.)

At Hey abby, we meet growers every day who remind us why we love doing what we do. Today, we'd like to highlight one such grower who has inspired us with his service and resilience. DC1 (EXP/SW) Jerry W Padgett II is a veteran of the United States Navy, a former Paralympian, and a current linesman for the Hillsborough County Buccaneers. Read on to learn more about this warrior's incredible story and how cannabis played a role in his recovery. 

(The Riverine Squadrons of the United States Navy provide protection for maritime command ships operating in inland waterways.)

(The Riverine Squadrons of the United States Navy provide protection for maritime command ships operating in inland waterways.)

(The Riverine Squadrons of the United States Navy provide protection for maritime command ships operating in inland waterways.)

Joining the US Navy 

During our interview, Padgett admits that he got into trouble often as a kid. After multiple run-ins with the law, a judge gave him the option of serving a sentence or joining the military. So, at the age of seventeen, Padgett enlisted in the United States Navy as a Damage Controlman, handling both biochemical attacks and general ship maintenance.

By 1996, he joined the Navy's Riverine Squadron, which focused on controlling inland waterways within enemy territory. 

"My Alive Day is June 6, 2006"

In June of 2006, Padgett's squadron of 32 was surrounded by well over 300 attackers. The enemy had planted a bomb inside an animal carcass and detonated it when the squadron tried to remove it. As the building collapsed, Padgett jumped into a stairwell that gave out shortly after, causing him to fall 22 feet onto hard concrete. 

He would later learn that 20 of his team members did not survive the attack. While being airlifted out of the base, his rescue helicopter was shot down by enemy forces, leading to further injuries. 

Padgett was treated for damage to both his lower lumbar and the right side of his brain. After drilling a hole in the back of his head to alleviate swelling, the doctors told his friends and family that he would never walk, talk, or be cognisant again. 

"Cannabis saved my life"

Padgett admits that adjusting to his new life came with various challenges, specifically PTSD, medication, and constant physical therapy. "(The doctors) gave me epilepsy medicine and... a neuro inhibitor, so it inhibited the reaction and the response time of my brain, so I couldn't even blink. I couldn't swallow; I couldn't do anything!" At one point, Padgett was on 32 different types of medication. 

"Cannabis saved my life," he told us. Introduced by his friend, he began taking THC to relax his hyperactive brain and CBD to help alleviate his pain. He was soon able to reduce his prescription to just 8 medications. 

(Padgett during the handcycle portion of a triathlon. Handcycling replaces the race's biking component; athletes use arm cranks to propel the bike forward. )

“Through sports, I was able to find myself.”

In 2013, Padgett started participating in adaptive sports and was soon excelling. He fell in love with triathlon and went on to compete for the United States in the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, eventually placing 15th in the world. 

The man who was once told he would never be cognisant again was now representing his country in a 1.5-mile swim, 16-mile handcycle, and 6-mile wheelchair run. Padgett was able to complete the full race in just one hour, 38 minutes, and 36 seconds.  

A Crushing Set-Back

In 2018, while training for a biathlon, Padgett was struck by a tow truck. He suffered 3 facial fractures and became legally blind in one eye and deaf in one ear. His PTSD came back with a new vengeance; "I felt like the cars were alive," he recounted. "(That they were) breathing things that could attack me. So I'd never leave the house." 

He started staying home more and distancing himself from the outside world. One day, an old friend reached out, inviting him to join a wheelchair football team. His first response? "I can't, I'm blind!" he remembered saying. "It actually took another warrior to remind me that 'can't' is not something we warriors say".

(The Hillsborough County Buccaneers shown during football practice. )

"I'm going to have to do it differently, but I'll get it done"

In 2020, Padgett joined the Hillsborough County Buccaneers as a linesman. Over time, he was able to adapt to the game: "I eventually learned to be able to hear the chairs. I can even hear where the quarterback is when he gets the hike and the ball is passed and I can hear when he has (the ball) in his hands. I can hear when he adjusts the football in his hand to get ready to throw... I can (also) hear a guy that I'm blocking that's moving around me." 

(September 2021: a photo of the team in Tampa, FL.)

"Through football, I came back"

When faced with life's challenges, Padgett explains that we're faced with two choices: you can give up or you fight like you've never fought before. "I was trapped within myself and I fought and I got out and I am now who I am." His passion for sports saved his life twice, giving him a new cause to pursue after the military. 

"It's easy to wake up and know that I'm alive and know that what I did helped some people— hopefully, it made some difference," he explains. "But that feeling ends when you put the dog tags down, when you put your uniform down. So you look for something else that you can give back to... (and use) that dedication. And a sport is like that. So that's what it did for me."

Coming Soon

Next up, we’ll talk about more about our Hey abby team. Interested in our story? Be sure to come and chat with us in Discord by clicking here

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