Marine veteran Jason Sydoriak ran a 5K for the first time since being injured in Afghanistan almost five years ago. He participated in Colorado State University’s Veteran 5K Saturday.
Sydoriak served in the Marine Corps infantry for six years and was deployed in Afghanistan in 2010 and served five months there before his left heel bone was shattered into 18 pieces due to an explosion from a roadside bomb. He is now a senior at Colorado State studying political science.
“When you’re in a hospital bed away from your guys, you’re just really p*ssed off for the most part,” Sydoriak said, recalling his initial thoughts after the accident. “Depression sets in. At first there’s a lot going on – you get a lot of attention from the nurses, but it’s kind of like a honeymoon period, especially when you’re rewarded the Purple Heart. People kind of treat you like you’re a hero or celebrity or something, but eventually, it all goes away and you realize: (the injury) is forever.”
However, Sydoriak’s anger was not generated from the pain and the realization that his foot will never function how it once did. His anger was because he was forced to leave his Marine brothers behind.
“You never want to leave your guys,” Sydoriak said. “I remember that even though my feet were messed up I said, ‘Just put me with the turret gun. I don’t need to be standing for that, I’ll just sit there.’”
Sydoriak and his squad of 11 other men were performing a security patrol around a town the Taliban recently fortified, and were given intelligence that the enemy was planning to ambush the U.S. troops. The squad was then sent in an armored vehicle on a route that led towards the Taliban. On the way, the vehicle struck a roadside bomb, which was strong enough to puncture a hole in the armor. The energy from the bomb traveled into Sydoriak’s feet and shattered the left heel bone.
Sydoriak is now the state planning coordinator for the Team Rubicon national disaster response organization team in Colorado. His girlfriend, Lisa Smith, who serves as programs manager for the Colorado sector of Team Rubicon, said she thought that Sydoriak’s injury would drastically change his life forever, and prohibit him from doing a lot that he wanted to do. However, she admitted she was sorely mistaken.
“Jason does not let his injuries stop him from living a normal life,” Smith said. “Over the past few years, we worked together at disaster zones with Team Rubicon. I would see him removing large debris from river banks, carrying out parts of destroyed houses, or dragging over-sized logs burned from the most recent fire towards the wood chipper. He might wince every once in a while, or limp to his car at the end of the day, but he never let that stop him from helping.”
During the healing process, Sydoriak has been training and running to build strength back on his feet. He began with running 20-minute slow and painful intervals on the treadmill, then challenged himself to practice running a 5K before the official CSU Vet 5K. He ran his practice 5K in 40 minutes.
“When I was wounded, something in my life just halted,” Sydoriak said. “But what it takes is that you put one foot ahead. And then the next foot. Then you keep going until you reach the end. It’s the little steps that eventually make larger strides.”
Sydoriak crossed the finish line at the CSU Vet 5K in 25 minutes.
“I pushed myself to 25 minutes, but I knew I couldn’t stop,” Sydoriak said. “When I was in the Marines, I couldn’t stop because in combat, there’s no time for that. I had a lot of friends who unfortunately died in combat, so I kept them in my memory as I ran.”
Sydoriak said he participated in the 5K for those friends who died in combat, as well as to raise awareness for suicides amongst veterans.
“I decided to run the 5K to show people that you don’t have to be defined by your circumstances, your disabilities and your wounds,” Sydoriak said. “It’s tough, but you could always reach out to your friends and just know that it isn’t always going to be like this. As long as you put forth the effort, you’re going to keep going.”
Sydoriak’s next steps are to continue to serve his community and create awareness to veteran suicide through lobbying the U.S. government for two bills focused on mental health and veteran suicide prevention.
The Adult Learner and Veteran Services at CSU is an organization that supports the transition, education, leadership and involvement of adult learners and student veterans.
“Anyone can come into the ALVS office and talk to any of the staff at any given time,” said Jonathan Haskins, a front desk staff member at ALVS. “We don’t close anybody off and we try to intervene and help those who need it. Twenty-two veterans take their lives every day.”
The Adult Learner and Veteran Services organization offers resources such as one-on-one consultations with professional staff, resume and employment assistance and academic and career coaches for veterans and adult learners.
Collegian Reporter Amanda Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @amanduhh3003.