Go for a Run: A Choice That Changed Everything for This Marine

“Join this group on a hike or go for a run.”

That’s what Marla Knox Davis, former executive director at the San Diego Adaptive Sports Foundation in California, told U.S. Marine Corps veteran Michael Spivey.

  • Just a few weeks earlier, Spivey was a combat engineer in Afghanistan leading his unit across a minefield searching for IEDs (improvised explosive devices).
  • He was among the best at spotting IEDs carefully covered under a thin layer of dirt and safely leading his unit back to base.

And then it happened…

“Every time we went on a mission, we crossed these canals by going down the bank, through the water, and scrambling up the other side,” Spivey says.

“For some stupid reason, we didn’t this time. We crossed a log over the canal and I had a clean sweep. But as soon as we got to the other side, the blast went off.”

Michael Spivey served as a combat engineer in Iraq and Afghanistan in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Waking up to a new reality...

His left arm was so badly injured by the blast, doctor's would ultimately amputate. 

  • He also sustained major shrapnel injuries to his back and legs.
  • The blast blew out his inner and outer ear drum, and nearly severed his ear
  • And another Marine from the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment on the mission with Spivey was injured in the blast

It was three days before his birthday.

What would you do?

After his surgery, Michael laid in a hospital bed at Naval Medical Center San Diego.

For the next two weeks...

  • His wounds were packed and repacked with gauze
  • He was taking a long list of medications
  • He underwent multiple surgeries

"And I was losing my mind," says Michael.

"I went from going 190 miles an hour, getting shot at, and in full combat every day, to not doing anything but watch TV."

Walking, hiking and running trails outside the Naval Medical Center San Diego helped Michael adapt and recover after surviving and IED blast in Afghanistan and losing his arm.

Walk, hike, then go for a run

"One day, I grabbed the IV tree I was hooked up to, and started walking around," says Michael.

  • He walked a lap around his floor, passing rooms where other injured vets were being treated.
  • He hopped on the elevator and walked a lap around the next three floors
  • But it wasn't enough

"I needed fresh air," says Michael.

"My doctors weren't that happy about this. But I needed to be active, and I wanted to get outside."

And that's exactly what he did when he moved from the hospital to military barracks to continue his recovery.

  • First, he started walking 1 to 2 miles on trails outside the San Diego hospital with other recovering vets
  • After about a month, he went from walking to running
  • Move United stepped in to get Michael and other vets signed up for 5Ks, half marathons, and mud runs
  • Michael even convinced Marla Knox Davis at the San Diego Adaptive Sports Foundation to help coordinate a climb to the top of Mt. Whitney. It's 14,505 feet above sea level, and the highest point in the continental U.S.

"Outdoor therapy was a huge part of my recovery," says Michael.

"After an injury like mine, you're going to learn how to adapt a lot faster by putting yourself in real environments."

He adapted, and went on to run a long list of races, including the:

Michael Spivey is a two-time U.S Paralympic Snowboarder, and he won the 2022 U.S Parasurf Championship.

But that was just the beginning...

Eventually, Michael was reminded that recovery is rarely a straight line of upward success...

  • He hit a low point
  • Some close family members died unexpectedly
  • More vets he knew took their own lives
  • A business venture failed, along with his financial investment
  • He was depressed, and he was desperate to find a way out...

So he hopped in his truck and headed to Colorado to try snowboarding...

"Instead of letting depression take over me, I decided to do one of two things," says Michael.

"I was going to go out there, clear my head and learn how to snowboard or I was going to freeze to death in the back seat of my truck."

His first snowboarding experience was lit...

"I spent my alive date in Colorado with Move United at the Ski Spectacular," says Michael.

  • He went from never snowboarding in his life, to flying down Black Diamond-rated slopes within a week.
  • So when he returned, he was even more determined than ever to master the snowboard. And it worked. 
  • When returned to ride with Adaptive Action Sports, things started to click...

"After about two or three days of just snowboarding, it was like I could feel the universe telling me this is where I needed to be."

And the mental toughness he learned in the Marine Corps paid off...

He competed in the:

  • 2022 Paralympic Winter Games in Beijing China, winning 15th in Banked Slalom, and 17th in Snowboardcross
  • 2018 Paralympic Winter Games PyeongChang, South Korea, winning 18th in Banked Slalom and Snowboardcross
Michael Spivey and his wife Kris Spivey run races and participate in events to support wounded veterans.

Keep on running

Fun fact...

Michael met his now-wife Kris on a dating app when he was splitting time between San Diego, Calif., and snowboarding in Colorado.

They spent a lot of time texting and talking. It seemed like a good match.

And eventually, they planned to meet in person.

But it didn't go exactly as expected...

  • He was headed back to San Diego for some follow-ups at the hospital.
  • They planned to meet for dinner

Only Michael's ride from the airport cancelled at the last minute. Everybody else he could think of was busy, so he left Kris an awkward message...

"Hi Kris. This is Michael. I have kind of a weird question..."
"I know we were going to meet for dinner, but I don't have a ride."
"Can you come down and pick me up from the airport and take me to the hospital?"

  • That was their unofficial first date. 
  • They went out to dinner. 
  • They talked for hours.
  • Michael beat Kris at bowling and miniature golf...with one arm
  • And the rest is history...

"Honestly, she's the reason I made it to the Olympics," says Michael.

"I didn't think I was going to qualify. I thought it might be time to just give up on this dream, but she didn't see it that way."

She said...

  • 'I'm not going to marry you and put up with listening to you complain for years about what you could have or should have done to make it to the Olympics."
  • "I don't care if you don't make it. But I want you to try, and give it your all."
  • "If you make it, that's awesome. If you don't at least you'll know.'"

That's how they built their relationship from the beginning...one run, one challenge, one day at a time.

Want go for a run?

It's a regular thing for Michael and Kris Spivey, who live in San Diego, Calif., with their dogs...

  • Close to the beach...
  • Close to the veteran's hospital where Michael still receives check-ups
  • And close the trails that help save his life.
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Evan Jensen
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SANDY, Oregon
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I help RUNNERS reduce injuries, fix running form, run longer & faster by strength training without running ragged. I'm a NASM...

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