The Peak of Potential

TBI survivor hopes to inspire others

If you had a second chance at life, what would you do with it?

If you’re Randy Davis, a former Army reservist and traumatic brain injury survivor, you might look to scale the the 14,115-foot Pikes Peak with a fellow veteran.

Davis has accomplished this task twice—demonstrating that soldiers are defined by their characters, not their wounds.

Davis tackled his first Pikes Peak Challenge in 2008 with a fellow TBI survivor.

But unlike that fellow soldier, Davis’s second chance came three decades ago … long before he put on his uniform.

Davis spent most of his youth in rural Virginia, where he learned to shoot and hunt at an early age. He dreamt of one day starting a military career.

In 1984, as a high school junior, he moved to San Diego, Calif., where he quickly missed the thrill of roaming the woods, rifle in hand—until one fateful day.

He and several new schoolmates went to a canyon area where they spent the day target shooting until sunset. After calling it a night, Davis wanted to enjoy the wooded night air, and went for a short hike. Davis was climbing out of the canyon at the moment one of his friends fired a .22-caliber rifle, several times.

“I heard the gunshot and a fraction of a second later my head snapped back. The pain was excruciating and I tumbled over an embankment. I was howling in pain as I cradled my broken face, feeling blood pouring between my fingers.”

The first bullet entered 1/4" from the right corner of his right eye, burrowing through bone, tissue, and brain matter. It came to rest in the right temporal lobe of his brain. A second bullet grazed the left side of his head.

“Suddenly I find myself in the back of a pick-up, one arm wrapped around the roll bar and the other hand held against my gushing head wound. I had a moment of clarity going through first aid stuff I'd learned over my short 16 years. I realized I needed a bandage to control the external bleeding and pulled an old handkerchief from my back pocket. I staggered into the trauma center at Palomar Memorial Hospital, fully conscious, covered in mud and blood, with a bullet in my brain, but ALIVE.”

Davis had stopped the external bleeding but was still bleeding inside the skull, intracranial, which puts pressure on the brain with nowhere for fluids to go. Emergency brain surgery was performed to remove the bullet and damaged brain matter.

He had a depressed skull fracture from the impact of the bullet, and now has a large dent and a question marked shaped scar on the right side of his head from surgery. The psychological and emotional aftermath of the incident would consume many years of his post-injury existence.

When he turned 18, Davis visited Army recruiters, still wishing to fulfill his desire to serve his country. After telling the recruiters about his shooting, he was told, “YOU CAN'T EVEN BE DRAFTED!”

So Davis wandered, lost for years, not being able to do what he wanted to do since he was a child. He worked many dead end jobs over the years, still dealing with post-traumatic stress, until he found the National Head Injury Foundation, now the Brain Injury Association of America, and found people who understood TBI.

Initially turned away by military recruiters, Davis found a career in law enforcement.

With proper therapy and resources, Davis moved forward in life and received an associate’s degree in the administration of justice, with honors. He took a security position at a factory in Richmond, Va.

He then pursued a career in law enforcement seeing it as a way to still serve his country. This was several years after the shooting and his relentless pursuit of normalcy.

Davis had to teach his brain to work harder. He also learned that sometimes you have to fail to move forward in recovery.

He spent almost 10 years actively wearing a law enforcement uniform of some kind, both in Virginia and Colorado. But it wasn’t enough, and Randy wouldn’t stop until he finished something he’d started years before.

In 2005, Randy’s perseverance resulted in being accepted for enlistment into the U.S. Army Reserves.

“I was 16 years old when I got shot, then 20 years later, I’m shipping off for basic training!!”

Looking for a change, he opted to become a heavy equipment operator, and attended basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo.

Randy drove trucks and heavy equipment and managed to complete 8 years of service without being shot again.

“I have to look at each day as a grace from God. Every day I’m still here, I’ve been given a second chance at life.”

Now honorably discharged, Davis works in industrial security in northern Colorado, but continues to look for ways to pay forward his recovery by generating awareness through events like the Pikes Peak Challenge.

“The incidents and statistics of TBI are staggering, yet public awareness is virtually nil,” Davis says. “Don't let anyone tell you you can't do something. It just takes time and hard work — NEVER QUIT!”

To learn more about Traumatic Brain Injury and resources available, especially for service members, veterans and their families, visit BrainLine Military, a service of WETA, the public TV and radio station in Washington, D.C. The website is supported by a grant from the Bob Woodruff Foundation.

Like what you read? Give Bob Woodruff Foundation a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.