Through Airmen's Eyes: Going for the Gold

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. David Speicher
  • 175th Wing Public Affairs
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

On July 5, 2011, Senior Airman Gideon L. Connelly was involved in a motorcycle accident in Baltimore County with serious damage to his left leg. The doctors told the Maryland Air National Guard repair and reclamation crew chief that, if he kept his leg, it would leave him with limitations to what he could do. However, if the leg was replaced with prosthesis, his abilities would significantly increase.

On Sept. 16, 2011, Connelly chose to have the leg removed below the knee.

"(When the accident happened) I was upset. I didn't think I would be able to return to work. I didn't understand how it would affect my life. I was scared," said Connelly. His friends were scared but supportive. "They didn't know how to help. My family stuck by my side and is very supportive."

Connelly started a rehabilitation process to walk, and then run with the goal of staying in the military. Around Thanksgiving 2011, he started walking and less than a year later had progressed to running. It's a decision that has transformed his life. "I want to inspire people. It is a great opportunity. I am blessed to come back and do what I can do after a horrific accident," said Connelly.

Before the accident he lifted weights and did some distance running for physical training. Now he runs sprint races. Connelly competed in the Texas Regional Games (Paralympic games that are used for qualifying for the national events) April 13-14, 2013. He competed in the men's t44 (below the knee amputation) 100 meter and 200 meter races, receiving two gold medals. His 100 m time qualified him for the Paralympic Nationals in San Antonio, Texas June 14-16. He will however, compete in the Endeavor Games at the University of Central Oklahoma June 6-9 to make a second attempt at qualifying in the 200 m for the Paralympic Nationals.

"My goal for now is to make the nationals. In the time frame I have I will probably not win nationals. I am a beginner at running and at this point I do what I can do," said Connelly. His goal is to win nationals in a future year with ultimate goal of the 2016 Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"I would like to stay in the military and compete for the Air Force team. I would like to work down at Walter Reed as a physical therapist," he said. Most wounded military members with amputations go to Walter Reed Military Hospital in Bethesda, Md. to receive and learn how to use their prosthesis.

To stay in the military, Connelly said, "I had to do a PT test and prove to medical that I can do my job without assistance. The worst part was the paperwork. I had to prove myself to the base medical review board."  His next step is to be medically deployable worldwide.

Lt. Col. Tom Donnellan, deputy commander, 175th Maintenance Group, talked about Connelly's progress to stay in the military, and emphasized that despite his amputation, Connelly has to do what all Airmen would do to stay in the military.

"I couldn't imagine waking up one morning missing a limb. He has been able to overcome it. The military has seen a lot of this," said Donnellan. "Losing your limb affects your whole life. He was in good physical shape to begin with. He had the mental capability to deal with the accident and has trained to do his job with his limitations. He is a young troop, squared away and knows what he needs to do to stay in the game."  

Connelly is also participating in a study by the University of Florida on prosthesis, helping develop the devices, not only for him, but also for others who need the devices.

He is testing three mechanical feet on an obstacle course used by Tampa police SWAT that includes walking/running on treadmills. The performance of the foot is then evaluated under these conditions. During these tests, his vital signs are monitored to see how his body works with the devices. "The study is to see how the different feet perform in stress-related conditions," said Connelly.

Although Connelly has received support from a lot of people, one person has made a big impact on his future. Tech. Sgt. Kandyce O' a maintenance management data analyst with the 135th Maintenance Operation Flight who, after watching Connelly walk with his prosthetic leg, became curious about his personal story.

"I saw him walking around with a prosthetic leg and I didn't know who he was. I approached him and asked him if I could ask him a few questions. We started talking and I discovered he was into track. I learned he wanted to go to Rio in 2016 - the Paralympic games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil," said O'Meally.  "I asked how he was going to do it and what his plans were. In the conversation, I let him know I had some contacts in the track world from when I trained during college," she said.  With her contacts he was able to talk with someone on the Paralympic committee.

"She helps me out at times when I need it. I have a lot of paperwork to fill out and she helps me out with that. She is a great person. She helps me out when I am down. She gives me motivation. She is a great hearted person," said Connelly.

"I see a hard working kid. I see a kid with a lot of motivation and drive. He is never down. Life dealt him a hand, not a bad hand, not a good hand. Just a hand and he plays it well," said O'Meally.

Donnellan summed up Connelly's potential, "It's whatever he wants to make of it. He is on the right track. He can go as far as he wants to."

Connelly has good advice for anyone who has lost a limb. "Keep your head up. Don't let anything discourage you. It is a mind over body experience. If you keep your head in the right place you can do anything you want."