By Ann Needle
Mother’s Day is the time for brag alerts from moms, and last Sunday was no exception. Cameron Kerr, a 2005 graduate of NRHS and son of John and Mary Kerr of Stow, continues to stride on and make not just his mother proud.
For those who do not know the former Army first lieutenant’s story, the latest chapter in the 27-year-old Kerr’s life began in February 2011, when part of his left leg was blown off on duty in Afghanistan, when he stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device). He eventually ended up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with a prosthetic lower leg, and months of intense physical therapy. Mixed in was plenty of work with the Wounded Warriors Project, which provides support to wounded soldiers and their families.
“It’s never over. The pain continues, the leg does not grow back, and he struggles to some degree with it every day — although you will NEVER hear that from him,” said Kerr’s mom, Mary. “And it still breaks my heart.”
While Mary’s pride in her son’s resilience is evident, Kerr is more reluctant to speak of his latest accomplishments. Among Kerr’s bigger coups was completing the Boston Marathon in April, for the second time. Kerr noted that he ran with the Achilles Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans, devoted to helping shore up any disabled veteran’s physical fitness in preparing to run a marathon, or to the veteran’s best ability. He ran his first Boston Marathon in April 2012, little more than a year after his lower leg was amputated. Kerr stated the news of his second marathon rather matter-of-factly.
“I say it without any emotion because I know people who have lost two, three limbs have run way more than I have,” Kerr maintained. I’m way lazier than people say I am.”
Humility aside, Kerr pointed to a sense of mission in jumping into April’s race. “After what happened last year, I definitely wanted to do the marathon this year, with so many people losing limbs,” he said of last year’s bombing at the finish line. Kerr remarked that, of course, this meant being sore at the end. “A prosthetic is not designed for hills, and we’re [humans] not designed to run 26 miles.” For him, the next marathon will be on a flatter course, such as in Chicago, he added.
The Quiet Adjustment
As planned, Kerr did land a civilian job with the US Department of Defense, one that carries with it several layers of security clearance, he remarked. Kerr described his Washington, DC job — which calls for hours at a computer each day — as unnaturally quiet at times, “Compared with what I was doing in the Army. We get back here, and we’re not used to not having that constant adrenaline rush. A lot of us struggle with, well, what’s our mission?”
To help bring that sense of mission into his life, Kerr reported he began volunteering last year with Team Rubicon, a veterans’ service organization devoted to offering veterans and others ways to continue giving to their communities. Among the many activities Team Rubicon has assisted with throughout the US are re-building after Super Storm Sandy and a typhoon last year in the Philippines, along with disaster relief teams helping in the South in the wake of tornadoes earlier this spring.
Team Rubicon includes veterans of all ages and military events, along with some civilians, especially those with medical expertise, Kerr said. As with the established Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, he remarked that Team Rubicon also offers a terrific way to network with other vets.
“It gives people focus again, it gives them a new mission,” said Kerr. “You’re so used to this community of support in the military.”
“This is something that as a family has always been important,” Mary Kerr explained of her son’s devotion to service. “Our Sudanese sons were very concerned when their ‘little brother’ was injured.” The Kerrs were mentors to several of the “Lost Boys of Sudan” living in the area, young refugees fleeing violent civil unrest in their home country.
As it turns out, Mary added another example of service for her son to follow.
Looking back to Kerr’s first days home from Afghanistan, Mary recalled, “As a new amputee he was required to have a caregiver, so I lived in Washington, DC, with him for the first five months and made life-long connections and friends. I’m pleased to say that two volunteers I wrote nominations for have just received the prestigious Viscardi Award!” Honoring those doing outstanding work with people with disabilities, this award went to Tom and El Porter, a Korean War combat-wounded amputee, and the Army physical therapist who treated Kerr, who have spent the last 8 years mentoring wounded soldiers at Walter Reed, she explained.
Mary also reminisced about celebrating this year’s third Alive Day near Walter Reed, with Kerr and friends and family. This is, as Mary dryly put it, “The day he was blown up. The teasing among his fellow wounded soldiers is still merciless – Cameron is dubbed ‘Papercut’,” referring to what may be considered a minor wound compared with multiple amputees, as she noted.
Kerr agreed, “When it comes physical fitness, I’ve seen triple amputees do incredible stuff. That’s why I say don’t pity us. We show the public that just because you’ve lost a limb doesn’t mean the end of everything.”