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Central Pa. veteran who suffered a tragedy finds a new purpose in life

A few months into deployment, Zach Stinson and his squad were conducting an after-action damage assessment when he stepped on an improvised explosive device.

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — Zach Stinson from Chambersburg initially joined the military because he liked training and physical activity. 

“It blossomed into gaining a lot more from the Marine Corps. I mean, by the time I was 23, I had experienced most stuff that I some people will never experience," said Stinson. 

He deployed for the first time to Afghanistan in 2010, it would also be his last. 

A few months into deployment, Stinson and his squad were conducting an after-action damage assessment when he stepped on an improvised explosive device.

“I stepped down with my left leg and boom, like a pogo-stick. My ears are ringing, I mean there’s dust everywhere and I promise you, I’m flying through the air, in slow motion. I knew exactly what had happened," said Stinson. 

After he hit the ground, his squad immediately came to his rescue.

“The first thing that happened was, I told one of my guys to tell my wife I loved her," said Stinson. 

His wife was pregnant with their first child.

“The first phone call in Afghanistan we had found out we were pregnant. So, she was at this point 4 months, and I was like, ‘Ok, well…This kid is going to grow up without a dad," said Stinson. 

Thankfully he was alive, but he didn’t know the extent of his injuries. 

“I knew something was up because no one would give me a direct answer, and I still couldn’t move," said Stinson. 

The blast resulted in Stinson losing both of his legs above the knee, some fingers and other internal injuries. He has had more than 30 surgeries and spent about two years in the hospital.

“There was a point where I was just like…the world is going to keep on spinning. It doesn’t care if you have a positive attitude or a negative attitude, but it’s going to keep moving and you can move with it or you can stay back here being miserable," said Stinson. 

A few years later, he decided to give Para-Triathlons a go. Since then, he has found his new passion. 

“I was pretty good at it, and we’ve been fully committed to this type of triathlon, the sprint distance, probably for about two years," said Stinson.

He has been in about nine competitions nationally and internationally. 

“This year we raced in Florida, Spain, we just got back from Portugal," he said

In a few weeks, he’ll be heading to the 2022 World Triathlon Championship finals in Abu Dhabi.

“750 meters on the swim, it’s a 20k on the bike, which translates to 12.4 miles," said Stinson.

He has been training every day at the Chambersburg Memorial YMCA.

“I had a meeting with my coach yesterday on what we need to do going forward, to be as prepared as we can," said Stinson.

His ultimate goal is to compete in the 2024 Paralympics, but until then, he remains grateful for the opportunities he’s had as well as for having a second chance at life.

“Doors have just been open that I don’t think should’ve. [It's] just a miracle that I’m even where I’m at. In my mind, I should have died 12 years ago, so, I’ve been trying to be obedient in where I need to be," said Stinson.

During his recovery process, Stinson and his family were supported by many, including the Semper Fi & America’s fund, a non-profit that provides lifetime support to combat-wounded veterans and their families.

For the 11th consecutive year, two organizations: The Bob & Renee Parsons Foundation and Parsons Xtreme Golf (PXG) will partner with Semper Fi & America's Fund in the Double Down for Veterans Match Campaign. 

Through the end of the year, the organizations will match every donation made to Semper Fi & America's Fund dollar-for-dollar up to $10 million.

Readers can follow and support Stinson's special journey here

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