On this Memorial Day in the United States I would like to take a minute to thank the men and women of the US Armed Forces who have served (and many of them died) protecting our rights of freedom. Some have been hailed; some like our Viet Nam vets were scorned; but, hopefully, none are forgotten. I thank you for standing your post on an unnamed ridge in Afghanistan or on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the midst of a nine month deployment or at your station on a submarine thousands of feet under the sea. While our freedoms may be threatened these men and women have said, “Sleep well. Nothing will happen on my watch.” I salute you and appreciate your sacrifice.
There is an old saying that whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger. We interpret this to mean that the adversities we face in life are the situations that help build strength and character. Adversity is often seen as not getting selected for the cheer leading team, or not making the starting line up in our sport, or not getting into the college of our choice or not getting the promotion we wanted. Many of us understand adversity on a higher level- the loss of a loved one or a serious illness. Few of us face what Jason Schechterle faced.
I had never heard of Jason until I looked at the sports page of the Dallas Morning News on May 28. There was a picture of a man with serious facial scars and two and a half fingers on his left hand caddying for his friend at the Byron Nelson tournament on the PGA tour. Because of the scarring sweating is difficult. The heat and wind and humidity must have been staggering. But Jason was there for his friend. His story is amazing and inspiring.
In 2001 Jason was a Phoenix police officer stopped on the side of the road with his lights flashing. A taxi pushed a yellow light and swerved to miss a car that had stopped at the light in front of him. He rear-ended Jason’s patrol car and the Ford Crown Victoria burst into flames. For 90 seconds Jason sat in that inferno unable to undo his seat belt to exit the car. Fire fighters arrived, saw the flashing lights and knew one of their own was trapped in the fire. They cut the seat belt and freed Jason from the car. He received medical treatment at the scene. Amazingly his wind pipe had not filled with smoke or closed from the heat. He was rushed to the burn unit of the hospital.
When they began treatment doctors were nearly overcome by what they found. Fourth degree burns on his face head and neck. Hands burned to the tendons. I didn’t know what fourth degree burns were. Third degree burns burn through all of the skin layers. Fourth degree burns also burn the fat and other tissues below the skin. Doctors hoped to find some bleeding as they worked- a sign that there was some live tissue remaining. Unfortunately in many cases they cut through the leathery remains of the fire until they reached bone.
Jason did survive. He underwent more than 50 surgeries. Doctors never expected him to walk again. He has fooled them all. He fathered his third child. He has cut two strokes off his golf score. He speaks several times a month to groups who want to hear his story. He has founded a group, Beyond the Flames. Nearly 30 officers have died in Crown Victoria crashes. Jason considers himself lucky. He describes his life as “incredible.”
Jason Schechterle has faced adversity at the highest level. He beat the odds. It has made him stronger and he is sharing that strength with others. Jason is one amazing individual.