Interview with Sole Inspirer - Aubrey Hand III
Let’s Meet Sole Inspirer, Aubrey Hand III
Aubrey Hand III is a 35-year-old retired Air Force Senior Airman, father, husband, and adaptive athlete. In 2012, while on a route in Afghanistan, an improvised explosive device (IED) was detonated under his vehicle. Despite his injuries, Aubrey assisted the other men and women in the vehicle, checked for secondary devices, and helped pull the gunner from the vehicle. As a result of the explosion, Aubrey suffers from TBI, PTSD, and he has a left below knee amputation. Aubrey was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Action Badge, an Air Force Commendation Medal, the Meritorious Unit Award, and an Active Duty Outstanding Unit Award.
SI | Aubrey, we are so inspired by your story. Can you tell the readers a little more about yourself?
Aubrey | I am the father to a 3 ½ year old crazy little man, his name is Theron, my middle name. My wife’s name is Jasmine. I retired from the military a few years ago after getting injured in Afghanistan in an IED accident. I am a left below knee amputee and I’ve tried limb salvage for 4 years. Limb salvage is where they try to save your leg during surgery and procedures, but nothing works, so the doctors decide to amputate. I am an adaptive athlete. I started snowboarding 4 months after the amputation and I fell in love with snowboarding. I started running again and I play golf. I love to do anything outdoors, and just to be active again is amazing. There are no limits to what I can do now. I am more active now than ever before.
SI | Can you give the readers more specifics about how you were injured?
Aubrey | I was blown up by a 200lb command wire IED. The blast shattered my heels, Achilles, and my bones. Everything in my foot was destroyed. There was nerve damage through both legs, neck damage, and everything that comes with an IED blast.
SI | I’m so sorry to hear that but I’m glad that you survived and are here with us today. When did this actually happen?
Aubrey | The accident happened on August 11, 2012, not a great night at work, obviously.
SI | This had to have been a really hard time for you and your family. In the midst of the tough times I’m sure it was easy to hide or to feel hopeless. What or who helped you through?
Aubrey | Family was huge for my recovery. It’s definitely easy to shut down and not be true to yourself and what you are going through. My wife was a huge support; she was the backing that I needed to keep going. There were countless bad days but she kept pushing and encouraging me to get the help that I needed mentally and physically – then we had our son. You can’t sit around feeling bad for yourself, then try to play with your son, kids see right through that.
SI | Were there times when you didn’t feel like you could share with your family?
Aubrey | Yes. You don’t want your family to know what’s going on in your mind because you don’t want them to feel bad. I hid and masked how I felt because depression is such an isolation disease. It’s in your own head and it’s hard to break out of your own mind.
SI | Sitting here with you, your wife, and your beautiful son, it seems like you are thriving and doing well. Are there any special motivational practices or routines that you engage in when you’re feeling depressed?
Aubrey | I wouldn’t necessarily say practices, but I do have a routine. I get up in the morning and put my leg on. Then I go and get Theron out of bed and we go about our day. I don’t necessarily meditate or do the breathing exercises that a lot of people do but I make sure that I keep going every day. Having a routine is key (for me) to keep moving forward.
SI | What is one piece of advice that you hold close?
Aubrey | I think that everything happens for a reason – good, bad or indifferent. I was there for a reason, the vehicle stood longer than it was supposed to, everyone lived. It was a horrifying event but it’s brought me closer to my family – I retired at 30 and I can be with my son and wife full time. We’ve met some amazing people and have gotten to do some amazing things. Everything happens for a reason and you just have to roll with it.
SI | I like that! I don’t believe in coincidences either. What would you say is your superpower?
Aubrey | I guess if I break my leg, I can swap it out for a new one (lol). Honestly, I think my family is my superpower. They remind me that life is worth living.
SI | We talked about your family acting as your support system. Are there any other people in your life who you call your support team? How do they support you?
Aubrey | Physical and occupational therapists, and trainers in the gym. They encourage you and give you that extra push. Mental health professionals are great support too. I still work on my mental health. I go as often as bi-weekly or more if needed. Being able to get my mind right with somebody is essential. I can share things that I don’t feel comfortable sharing with my family. The mental health professionals don’t judge and they don’t make me feel like less of a person because I’m thinking a certain way.
SI | Before we started this interview, we talked about the stigma of mental health. I’m glad that more people like you are talking about it and getting the mental support that they need.
Aubrey | I had a lot of good people around me that pushed me toward it. 3 Days after the accident, Jasmin said you are going – so I went. People get through things they never thought they could recover from. It’s not 1920, you can talk about your feelings, it helps.
SI | Does it inspire you to raise your son to share his feelings?
Aubrey | It does because boys are taught, you’re a guy, you don’t talk about stuff and you don’t cry. It shouldn’t be like that. We raise Theron to tell us how he feels and tell us what he’s thinking.
SI | Aubrey, you are definitely an inspiration for Sole Inspired and many other men and women. Who inspires you?
Aubrey | The adaptive world. That’s the world I’m in now. I see people who are hand cycling marathons. People with more limbs missing than I have, running marathons. There was an above the knee amputee who ran 31 marathons in 31 days. The fact the he has no legs makes it that much more amazing. I look at other people pushing themselves and I look at myself and say, you can’t complain. It makes me want to push myself even more. If they can do it, I can do it.
SI | What advice would you give someone who’s having a hard time finding their get up and go?
Aubrey | Set goals and take little steps to get there. Don’t jump all in for the big goal. You are not a failure for not hitting the big goal. You did something other than give up, so you are a success. Even if it’s something little, get up and try.
SI | Is there a mantra or phrase that you would suggest keeping in mind?
Aubrey | If I can do this, I can do anything. It’s from the adaptive world.
SI | You said you are more active now than you were before your accident. What are some of the activities you’ve done lately?
Aubrey | I snowboard, golf, and hand cycle (which is extremely difficult). I’ve done half-marathons and marathons - which are pretty intense because it’s all upper body work.
SI | WOW… That’s amazing. Does your wife run with you?
Aubrey | Yes, but she is not a runner. At the end of the race, she's pumped and is ready (for me) to do more races. She continues to push and motivate me.
SI | It’s necessary to have that kind of a support system – someone who will do a little extra to make sure that you know that you can do it! You are definitely inspiring to me, Aubrey. You motivate so many people and I am grateful that you were willing to share your story to help others remember to keep moving forward. I also want to thank you for your service. I hold the military near and dear to my heart. I’m happy to see that you are thriving, and taking little positive steps day by day. Thanks so much.
Honestly, I think my family is my superpower!