“Of the initial approximately 120,000 Soldiers deployed to Iraq, few were engineers, possibly a couple thousand on the ground. It was our job to build roads, runways, bases, etc. On August 23, 2003, we were attacked. My squad leader – Sergeant Mark A. Lawton – was killed in action and his family was actually one of the first families to be supported by the SEAKR Foundation. I may have been one of the very first severely injured combat engineers to survive any injury (a very fortuitous thing as it would happen). I lost most of right leg and was hit with shrapnel throughout the rest of my body. I had to get a prosthetic leg. ” – Keith Deutsch, Facilities Technician at SEAKR Engineering, Inc.
Keith was lying in a hospital bed when a good friend of SEAKR CEO Ray Anderson’s – retired two-star Major General Jim Collins came to visit him.
“I didn’t necessarily appreciate high ranking officials coming to take photos while standing over me. But General Collins cared too much to leave, and that is not why he was there in the first place. He knew what old cars my deceased dad had left in our family barn before he even came in my room. That made it impossible for me to tell him to leave.”
Eight years later, General Collins called me out of the blue – only a few weeks after the birth of my first child. He told me that I would have the opportunity to give the Andersons (of the SEAKR Foundation) a personal update on the Lawton family at the SEAKR Foundation gala.”
“General Collins called me up and told me we were going to a dinner. He didn’t ask, he simply informed me of what I was doing and told me to put on a suit. I sat at the head table, and found myself amidst all the Andersons. I told them about The Lawton boys and their mom. I told them about my snowboarding career and the fledgling new sport of Paralympic snowboarding that I felt I was doing my part to carve out. I admitted that I had just started a family and was working with my cousin as a head mechanic, flipping cars. Somewhere along the way Scott said something like, ‘it’s going to be hard to give that up to come work for SEAKR.’ By the end of the dinner we had plans for a formal interview!”
Five years later, Keith is a well-known SEAKRite whose latest adventure was running in the New Prague half-marathon in honor of his father.
“My dad got sick not long after my youngest sister was born. The cancer had been in remission for a decade but when it came back it spread very quickly. I was 10 when he died. I found solace in running. I ran my first half marathon – the New Prague marathon – a year later. Now, flash forward 22 years and I tell my mom that I have started running again with this cool new prosthetic knee. Off the cuff she says, ‘if you come home for the New Prague half, I’ll run it with you.’ I have never been one to back down from a dare; and knowing that it would be her first half ever, and so, just as much a dare for both of us, I accepted. Judy Deutsch (62 years young) and I finished in a little under three hours, holding hands.”
As Keith recalled past physical accomplishments, a smile spread across his face.
“I remember after the accident when I called up my old manager at Buck Hill – where I used to teach snowboarding – and told him I lost my leg but I still wanted to go up the hill. He asked if I could do it safely, I shrugged and said, ‘No, I’ll be worse than half the other people out there.’ He told me he would love to see me try. So I kept trying. Six years later, after many mechanical innovations, lifelong friendships, and bucket list of accomplishments, I was representing the U.S. at snowboarding events around the world. I realize now that I was paving the way so that future generations would have easier access to the same opportunities.”
Keith threw his hands up and let out a full body laugh.
“Honestly, the one thing I can’t do better now is roller skate!”
More about Keith: The Heros Project