When Sgt Brian Sellers ran the Army Ten-Miler on October 11, 2015, this Team Semper Fi athlete was looking beyond the finish line.
“I thought this would be a good warmup for the Marine Corps Marathon,” said Brian, referring to the October 25, 2015 event that, like the Ten-Miler, is held in Washington, DC. “I haven’t run a marathon since before the injury.”
Born in Ft. Bragg in North Carolina (“my dad was in the Army, so we traveled around a lot”), Brian enlisted in the Marines right after his 2000 high school graduation. He was an infantry mortarman who suffered serious injuries in Ramadi, Iraq, on October 23, 2004.
“We just finished some basic patrols and operations out in town,” he recalls, “and we came back to base. Everybody was getting ready for bed, and I just finished checking the vehicle and walked through the sheet metal doors to our barracks. As soon as I shut the doors, a 120-millimeter mortar hit the doors. My ears were ringing, there was dust everywhere—I went to scream ‘incoming’ but I couldn’t talk.”
Brian took shrapnel in the left side of his neck, his left shoulder and leg, and in his spinal column. He woke up three days later in Landstuhl, Germany, and was soon MEDEVAC’d to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where he spent three months recovering. After that he was discharged and spent another three months recovering at home and getting various types of physical therapy.
“I had to learn to talk all over again, I had to learn to eat all over again,” he said, referring to the effects of the bilateral nerve damage caused by the blast. “I had to physically think about where my tongue is, how it moves there and consciously make the effort to do it.”
While Brian has shrapnel in his spine and shoulder blade to this day, he has nevertheless become an extremely active member of Team Semper Fi.
“My first, Team Semper Fi, event had to be 7 or 8 years ago,” Brian recalls. “It was the Tunnel to Towers run in New York. There was an unbelievable amount of support from the team and the community. The team was just very supportive and nonjudgmental; they had no expectations at all. The only expectation was to come out, enjoy the time with the team and give it your best effort—they don’t expect you to come out and break a record, they expect you to come out and break barriers.”
For the first two years or so, Brian participated in a Team Semper Fi event almost every month. He’s done everything from triathlons to bike rides to 5k and 10k events and more, but his favorite event?
“Has to be the cattle drive,” he says, referring to the Double Rafter Cattle Drive that’s part of the Fund’s Jinx McCain Horsemanship Program. “It brought us away from technology, away from all the distractions of the busy bustle of the world we live in and allowed us to get back to the roots of bonding with each other, of being out in nature and just realizing that life sometimes gets a little too crazy and the best things in life are really just sitting down and being personally in connection with another individual and not with technology.”
Currently an emergency room nurse in Florida (he holds degrees in nursing and criminology), Brian has been in a unique position to witness the development and growth of the Team Semper Fi program over the years.
“The biggest change is the expansion with Team America’s Fund,” he notes, “but originally the programs were focused around just running and biking sorts of things. Then they integrated some triathlon, some other things—they’ve really expanded it. I’ve been to snowboarding camps, they’ve added winter sports, summer sports, I can’t think of anything physically that I wanted to do that Team Semper Fi hasn’t offered me the opportunity to do.”
“Everything I’ve done with Team Semper Fi is so memorable and personal,” Brian adds. “I haven’t met a team member or a staff member who hasn’t put 100 percent of everything into making the experience a memorable one.”
Still, being an athlete and living with the injuries he brought home from Iraq has its hurdles.
“I think the greatest hurdle was to realize that I’m not the same person I was before, whether it has to do with being physically fit, or I’m no longer pain-free every day or I may not feel 100 percent comfortable with large crowds at the start of a race. I think the hardest part is realizing I’m not who I used to be—but that there’s no reason I can’t be as good as I used to be.”