AT AGE 25, ARMY SGT. K.C. MITCHELL LOST HIS LEG IN COMBAT—AND HIS SENSE OF SELF-WORTH. SIX YEARS LATER, HE’S AN ELITE POWERLIFTER WHO SCOFFS AT THE WORD DISABLED.
K.C. Mitchell doesn’t want your pity. He’s spent enough time wallowing in his own—and he’s over it. Before the 240-pound powerlifter, dubbed “That 1 Leg Monster,” began decimating able-bodied competitors on the platform in 2015, he wandered down an all-too-familiar path many military folks traverse: addiction.
The downturn can be traced to April 3, 2010. Mitchell, now 31, an Army staff sergeant on his second tour in Afghanistan, was on patrol with his unit when they drove over an explosive device. Lying in the dirt and bleeding out, Mitchell had no idea where he was. When he came to, “I ended up being in a hospital bed for the next four months,” he recalls. “I wasn’t able to move.”
His ankle was fractured, his right knee was shattered, and both legs were shrouded in third-degree burns. Worse yet, Mitchell still had to decide what to do about his left leg: endure years of agony and physical therapy or amputate.
In November 2010, Mitchell made an “easy decision.”
“I saw other amputees doing well at the hospital,” he explains. “I knew with the amount of pain that I was in that I would be better off [amputating the leg].”
It took three years and more than 30 surgeries for Mitchell to reach a point where he was ready to rejoin the Army, but his injuries proved too severe. He was presented the Purple Heart—a bittersweet moment for him—and afterward chose to retire. With his body taken from him and his career cut short, Mitchell quickly spiraled into a depression. To cope, he became a shut-in and popped painkillers, existing but not living.
“I was just using them to put myself into a whole other place because I was so depressed,” he admits.
Mitchell reached the bottom of his dispirited abyss on a trip to Disneyland for his daughter’s second birthday. Every step through “the Happiest Place on Earth” was sad and painful. He couldn’t make it a block before having to sit down to catch his breath and pop more pills. “The next thing you know I was walking around high as a kite. It ruined the whole trip,” Mitchell says. “I looked at my wife and said, ‘I’m sorry… I’m going to fix this.’ As soon as I got home, I went to my medicine cabinet and dumped every pain pill that I had down the toilet.”
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