The date was June 21, 2003 and Captain David Rozelle was in his Humvee on a mission in Iraq. Their vehicle drove over an anti-tank land mine and Rozelle, who was sitting directly above where the explosion was centered, was bleeding profusely from his arms, legs and face. Within two hours Rozelle was at the hospital and the doctors were giving him two options. They could try and keep his lower right leg, but he’d have a club foot that would be useless. Or he could have his leg amputated and he’d be back running in a year.
“That was actually the option they gave me,” he laughs.
After the surgery, he ended up home in Fort Collins, Colorado and tried to adjust to life as a lower-leg amputee. “We’re human and sometimes we’re weak,” remembers Rozelle. When he wasn’t on morphine for the pain, he was self-medicating with whiskey. “I wasn’t being a good husband or a good father,” he continues. “I stayed up late, woke up late, and watched television all day. I couldn’t even drive.”
Then a letter arrived that changed everything. It was a letter he wrote to his wife, Kim, from Iraq before he was injured. At the time he wrote the letter, Kim was due to have their first child, Forrest, any day. “When I read the letter I realized the pain my wife would have felt if she received it after I had died,” he says.
Rozelle stopped using morphine, started training 3-5 hours a day, and completed his first triathlon. Eventually he passed his physical and was cleared to return to Iraq to resume his command.
In 2006 he went to Kona to attempt the Ironman World Championship. As he got to within a quarter mile of the finish. He stopped to towel off and to gather himself. “It was important to me to not only finish the Ironman, but to also look strong and powerful coming across the line,” he insists. “My soldiers needed to know that if I can do it, so can they.”