Hometown: Glen Ellyn, Illinois
Branch of Service: US Army
Status: Medically Retired
Injury Date: 2008 – Baghdad
Injury: Vision Loss, Fine Motor Control lost in left hand, Nerve & Artery damage to left arm, degradation of smell, taste, and hearing.
Deployment Information: Baghdad, Iraq
Deployment date: November 2007 – May 2008
Unit: 4th Infantry Division
Since he was young, Steve Baskis had wanted to serve in the military like his father, grandfather, and many other family members. In January 2007, he enlisted in the Army with the goal of starting as an infantryman and eventually becoming a Green Beret. Steve graduated with honors from Fort Benning and earned a meritorious promotion. Soon, he was stationed with the 4th Infantry Division out of Fort Hood, Texas. By the end of 2007, Steve and his platoon were deployed to Iraq and tasked to protect a General.
Only eight months into his deployment, on May 13, 2008, everything changed for Steve. His squad was attacked while on combat patrol and a sophisticated roadside bomb sent a projectile through his thickly armored vehicle, killing his friend and severely wounding Steve. A week later, he woke up in Walter Reed Medical Hospital, groggy and disoriented, where a doctor told him, “You are blind and will most likely be blind for the rest of your life.”
Over the next six weeks, Steve would undergo over a dozen surgeries to remove shrapnel and repair the damage that included a fractured nose, fractured eye orbits, fractured skull, and 3rd degree burns. A severed artery and a number of severed nerves disabled his right leg and left arm. According to his squad, Steve’s body armor was destroyed in the blast. He now reflects, “I am truly blessed and fortunate to be alive, especially with all of my limbs. There was a chance they were going to amputate my left arm, but it got better.”
Steve amazed his doctors with the speed of his recovery and his attitude. What bothered him most wasn’t his own injuries but the loss of his friend and being separated from his squad. Nonetheless, he was unsure of his future until he learned about blind rehabilitation that would teach him the necessary skills to live life independently.
As soon as his doctors permitted, Steve transferred to Hines VA Blind Rehabilitation Center in Chicago, IL. For the next four months, he learned how to get around without vision and how to use electronics, such as a computer, iPhone, GPS, etc. He says now, “It was hard and frustrating, but I pushed through all of the courses and soaked up all of the information I could remember.” Steve also credits his wife, Sarah, for the speed of his rehab, “Without her I probably wouldn’t be doing this well two years after being seriously injured.”
As an admitted “adrenaline junkie,” Steve soon began researching sports that would help him get back in shape. In July 2009, he was invited to compete as a cyclist in the State Games of America national event held in Colorado Springs. Says Steve, “I had never rode on a tandem and had second thoughts on allowing someone else to pilot me around at speeds over 40 mph, but that faded away fast. I raced and completely fell in love with cycling again!”
Only a few months later, he competed in a half Ironman in Augusta, GA. “The race was grueling and pushed me to the limit,” he recalls, “But I did not give up and I forced myself across the finish line.” And a few weeks after that, he attempted the Chicago Marathon, reluctantly dropping out half way through, in part due to pain in his injured leg.
Steve rebounded the next month by climbing the third highest volcano in Mexico with a team sponsored by Global Explorers including blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer. At 17,126 feet, Ixta (Ixtaccíhuatl) is also the seventh highest peak in North America and a true challenge. Despite losing sensation in his injured left arm, Steve soldiered on and reached the summit on Veterans Day.
Steve medically retired from the Army in June, 2010. But he isn’t slowing down. Having participated in the October 2010 World T.E.A.M. Sports Soldiers to the Summit expedition to Nepal, Steve is working at joining the national Paralympics cycling team with the goal of entering the London 2012 games and bringing home a medal.
In the long run, Steve plans to earn a bachelor’s degree. Beyond that, he wants to start an organization that will allow other disabled individuals a chance to enjoy something they use to do or want to do.
He feels he has a new mission now. “Everything I have done and everything that I will do that seems to spark the interest of the media, I hope will inspire others. I do not find my injury as severe as some would say it is. I am lucky that I have the ability to think, experience life and most of all spend more time with my family and friends. There is always something you can do and it is up to you to find that internal drive to move forward. Never dwell on the negative, drive forward as fast and as hard as you can. If you are capable of that, there is nothing that will hold you back.”