Before his accident James “Chappie” Hunter was always on the move. The San Diego police detective spent his spare time coaching youth soccer, training himself and others in CrossFit and riding his motorcycle.
“[I was involved in] just about everything, but mostly my big thing was that I was involved in CrossFit. I am actually a level 1 coach for CrossFit,” Hunter told O&P Business News.
But on Father’s Day 2013, Hunter was a mile from home when a car coming from the other direction cut in front of his motorcycle, leaving him no time to slow down or swerve out of the way. The driver of the car was a 16-year-old girl who had just started driving.
‘Still a dad’
“I hit the front end of her car and instantly lost my leg … The leg landed on one side of the car and I landed on the other,” Hunter, who has no memory of the accident, said. “I was flown to the hospital … and I hopped out of the hospital 4 days later.”
Of course, before he “hopped out,” Hunter woke up to find that his left leg had undergone a transtibial amputation. But he says he never experienced shock or depression about the amputation — to him it was merely a setback.
“When I came to, my wife and, at the time, my son who was 6 years old, were there. I checked my head and face and looked around at the rest of my body. I realized that I did not have any brain damage, I was not functioning any differently. I had only lost my leg below the knee. I was so happy to see my wife and my kid again that the whole fact of losing my leg really did not matter to me,” he said. “The bottom line was that I was still going to be a dad and that was all that mattered.”
Hunter did not know much about dealing with an amputation, but he set a goal for himself immediately.
“My number one goal was to go back to sworn duty as an officer with the [San Diego police] department,” he said.
He gave himself a time frame of 1 year. He began working with his current prosthetist, Peter Harsch, CP of Peter Harsch Prosthetics in San Diego, in November 2013 and has not slowed down since. Thanks to his hard work, he recently met his goal.
“I was excited to find out [at the end of August] that I was actually cleared for full duty back to the police department,” he said. “I made my goal and that has been the biggest thing.”
Hunter will be part of the proactive unit for narcotics. He returned to coaching just 8 days after his accident and also is working with CrossFit clients at the gym again, as well as training himself 5 days a week.
Another major contributor to Hunter’s success so far has been the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF). Hunter had never heard of the CAF before his accident, “and it is in my own backyard here in San Diego,” he said. “They literally came to my bedside [after the amputation] and offered what assistance they had.”
He added,” I have been raising money for them now ever since I found about them.”
As of mid-September, Hunter had raised more than $7,500 for CAF — but he insists they have done even more for him.
On the run again
Last October, Hunter applied for a CAF grant and received a running leg. He said the Össur leg provided from CAF is worth $22,000 and that CAF included a socket and other needs such as medical follow-up visits.
“It has been the best thing that has ever happened to me,” he said of the gift. “I wear that leg mostly all the time, except when I am at work. It has brought me to a new level to be able to do everything that I did before.”
The variety offered by his two legs – his other is a Wave Sport Foot, Emotis – allows Hunter to experience CrossFit at the level he did before his accident.
“CrossFit involves both a lot of endurance running and also Olympic-style weight lifting,” he said. “On the Olympic-style weight lifting, I need the heel. If I am doing that portion, I will use my regular sport foot for that because it has a shoe and it has a heel and it allows me to perform those functions. But if I am doing anything endurance-wise, or anything involving running or jumping or sprinting or action like that, then I will switch out to my running leg and I can use that to do everything else.”
Pushing for success
While Hunter was able to meet his original goal, that does not mean he will become complacent. He already is working toward a new goal: participation in the San Diego Triathlon Challenge hosted by CAF. He will swim 1 mile and run 10 miles.
“Ten miles is going to be pretty huge. I did 8 miles the other day and almost died,” he said, laughing.
But Hunter is excited for the challenge and plans to shoot for a full triathlon next year.
His refusal to quit is also his best advice for new amputees or anyone facing physical challenges to their desire to become athletes.
“It is a mental and physical thing. If your mind tells you that you cannot do it, then most likely you are not [going to do it],” he said. “But if you tell yourself you can and you actually physically get up out of that chair or off those crutches and you force yourself and push yourself to do it, it is definitely achievable. I kind of tell myself that I am the prime example of that.”
He added a piece of encouragement he gives to his CrossFit trainees: “If I can do it, then you can do it. That is the biggest thing to me.” — by Amanda Alexander