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My Encounter with Superman


“So how did that affect your sister?”  A surprise question from a guy that I was actually trying to interview the morning we sat down for breakfast.  It’s the end of the a four day trip to New York to work with Men’s Health Magazine for the Men’s Health Ultimate Guy competition.  “My Dad drank sometimes, and that really affected his relationship with my sister.  So when you say your father was not around for any of you guys, I wanted to see if that affected your sister more than it did you.”

 

That was Noah Galloway’s no kidding, up-front, honest kind of questioning.  We had just sat down for breakfast, with the intent of me interviewing him for this article, and this interview was now turning into a back and forth Q and A…and I’m okay with that.  We had begun talking about our families walking from the hotel to the restaurant that morning, so it was natural to work our way around each other’s stories.

I had spent the last four days hanging out, and competing with Noah Galloway, and Finny Akers, two of the most stand up men you will ever meet.  But there is something different about one of us.  While Finny and I can walk around New York City and just blend into the crowd, Noah can’t do that.  Besides the fact that Noah lost his left arm and left leg in combat in Iraq, back in 2005, his southern accent is a dead giveaway that he isn’t from around anywhere close to New York City.  He’s perfected using his prosthetic leg as he confidently cruises around the city, but I can see the reaction of the people who pass us.  They look at his missing left, arm, they look at his prosthetic leg, and they look away quickly with shock or embarrassment on their faces, trying not to make eye contact.  It’s like they’re embarrassed for having looked at him.   I’m more than slightly annoyed at them for this.  But I get it.  They don’t know Noah Galloway, the whole man.

Men’s Health Magazine did such a fantastic job introducing Noah Galloway to the world in the Men’s Health November issue, but there is so much more to the story, and how meeting this guy will profoundly change your life…for better.

The first time I met Noah, I was coming out the elevator in the lobby of our hotel.  I’d been there around 30 minutes or so, talking to a man that had a gift for Noah (a whole different story).  As the elevator doors opened, I see Noah, walk over to hug him, and so does this gentleman.  The first thing I noticed about Noah is his infectious smile, and his openness to people he’s never met before.

 

I’m not sure if it’s because of our military background, but we immediately click, and before long, I’m heading out to get some dinner with Noah and his friends, Liza, and her husband Charlie.  Liza’s brother was in Noah’s unit, and was killed in combat in Iraq.  Noah became really close to the family after his friend was killed.  Throughout the evening I watched Noah navigate the table, interact with everyone, have some drinks, and work a fork.  One of my initial thoughts was, “Man this dude eats like a champion!”  As the evening progressed, my thoughts drift off to asking “How?”  How does he stay so positive, and own the floor like this?  “It’s been nine years,” He says in later conversations, “And it was pretty bad in the beginning.”  He doesn’t need to say anymore to me.  I can imagine how incredibly devastating it must have been to wake up with his arm and leg missing after being hit by and IED.  I can imagine how stinking angry he must have felt.  I can imagine what runs through his mind, as he lays in a hospital bed recovering, unable to go to the damn bathroom on his own.  I can imagine how frustrated he must have been…one day you are just not able to do the simple shit you did yesterday.  I can imagine that it would take me more than nine years to get over that.  Yet, I sit here writing with two arms, and I can squat down with two legs to pick up my daughters…and I’m grateful.  I’m grateful for guys like Noah, for the example that he is, and that’s just after the first day of being with him.

Over the next couple days I observe, and I take mental notes.  I watch Noah work out with a couple of Men’s Health’s top trainers, and he crushes everything they give him to do…and I’m in pain.  Wait, I’m usually leading the charge, why am I playing catch up here?  Now I’m feeling badly because Noah is done before me, but I won’t complain about my bad shoulder or bad hip because the guy with one arm and one leg just killed the same circuit that I’m doing.  Later on that trip, as Noah and I walk to one of New York City’s many gift shops, I told him about my hip, and that I was embarrassed because he’s out performing me, and he says the most unexpected thing.  “Hey man, don’t try to keep up with me.  Everything that would cause me pain is gone.  You still have that.  So don’t push yourself to a breaking point.  This is something I have to tell guys all the time, because they look at me, and they want to out do me.  Don’t.  If it hurts then stop.”  Just like that, he takes the pressure off of me, and I am truly, very grateful.

Noah, Finny, and I had a photo shoot on the trip that was truly magical.  I’m used to being behind the camera, but it was a lot fun cutting loose in front of the camera for a change.  What I didn’t see coming was that Noah was nervous.  This man with such a vibrant, larger than life personality, whom everyone looked up to, was having a moment.  “When you and Finny took ya’lls shirts off for the photo shoot, I suddenly felt really sick!  Finny had to talk me off the ledge man!”  What Noah didn’t realize was that the pressure was on Finny and me.  We had to nail this one, or else Noah was going to run away with the show.  In the end I think we all had a great time playing models, and as I catch glimpses of Noah working the set, I’m again inspired to do more, and really appreciate everything I’ve got.  He’s given me a whole new perspective.  My wife and I always say we wished Americans could see a real piece of combat, and live in some real shitty places, like most soldiers and Marines.  That way they could gain some real perspective, and quit taking things for granted, when they have so much.  Being with Noah those few days did the same thing for me.  I needed to stop taking things for granted, and appreciate that I can still do the simple things in life…like buttoning a dress shirt when no one is around.  I had a shoulder surgery earlier in 2014.  Ever tried using one hand to hurry to the bathroom when it really counted?  You get my point.  Noah has to live with that day in and day out, and you’ll probably never get the chance to hear him complain…because he won’t.

Perspective.


There are so many other things people don’t know about Noah Galloway.  He’s really, frickin’ funny, and kind of a smart ass too when he’s all spun up, but pretty dang good at it.  He’s got a gorgeous girlfriend, Jamie, who is such a sweet soul.  He’s an amazing Dad, who sometimes has to answer and explain his injures to his kids sometimes.  The day the magazine was revealed, Noah told me that because he had lost his arm in combat, and because Noah’s Dad had lost his arm in a factory accident, Noah’s son had asked, “Dad, when am I gonna lose my arm?”  I can’t even conjure up the word to answer that, or describe the lump in my throat that question stirred up.  Which one of us has to answer tough questions like that on a regular basis?  Not me.  My daughter asking, “How old will I be when I can get married?” is about as complicated as it gets for me at the moment.  I’m sure more questions will come up when she hears me answer, “Fifty!  If I let you get married!”  But Noah takes it all in stride.

 

What I experienced over those four days, spending time with, and getting to know Noah gives me a better picture, and a true appreciation for his story and who he is.  See I’m used to seeing our heroes come home with some pretty serious injuries, and having to go through humbling life changes.  Hell, I probably fought in the same war most of these guys did, and very likely shared the same battle space.  I’m one of the lucky ones that not only made it home alive, but also made it home in one piece.  Those four days in New York allowed Noah, Finny, and me to do more than share battle spaces.  Laughs, stories, mutual respect and friendship were being served throughout the entire trip.

I don’t know if Noah knows how much respect, and love I have for the man he is.  On a quiet moment, I asked Noah if he played football in high school, and he says, “No, I just worked out and hung out with the jocks because there were always girls around them.”  There it is.  Honest and straight forward.  I found something in common with this man outside of military stories and fitness.  Honestly, I’m still doing that very same thing.   Working out and hanging with jocks (as a coach), to make sure my wife stays interested in me.  It’s Noah’s honest, down to earth response to everything that comes his way that makes Noah one of the best people I’ve ever met.   It’s his determination, and “No excuses” attitude that makes you want to be around him.

Noah ended up winning the Men's Health Ultimate Guy competition.  My friends tell me I had a great showing, and what a cool opportunity that was.  That's very true.  I feel pretty good about the whole experience.  I was in the top three, and I was eventually beaten by Superman.  That's not bad in my book.  My encounter with Noah Galloway has changed me for good.  I’m glad to have served with you brother, and very glad to have met you as well.

-Kavan Lake

"This blog post is more about the man in the photos, than the photos themselves"


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