Providing encouragement and counseling for other amputees has become a serious interest for Heath. During his initial rehabilitation at Walter Reed, Heath became acquainted with the Wounded Warrior Project. The shared experiences of the groups members proved to be invaluable to him during his recovery and later he wanted to so the same for others. So he began sharing his experiences, successes, struggles and the unique challenges that amputees face daily. Eventually, the group asked him to be a spokesperson and now he meets with, and counsels the newly injured around the country. He also became an Amputee Coalition of America (ACA) certified peer visitor. Through this organization he makes himself available to others who have lost limbs and provides emotional and informational support to them.
Additionally, Heath actively works as an advocate for the needs of the wounded soldier. His most notable accomplishment was helping to get the Wounded Warrior Bill passed through Congress in 2005. Known as traumatic injury protection, the legislation financially assists wounded soldiers and their families during the months, and sometimes years, of grueling rehabilitation.
During his recovery, he was introduced to various adaptive sporting events and he immediately became an enthusiast. It seems that there is not a sport that Heath is not willing to try and, according to many, in which he doesn’t excel.
Just five months after he was injured he attended a Winter Sports Clinic in Aspen, Colorado where he attempted snow skiing for the first time. He initially tried to learn how to snow board but found it very difficult to balance on his prosthetic legs. A friend encouraged him to try skiing using a mono-ski. After the first day of skiing he was hooked! Heath was awarded the Challenge Aspen Inspiration Award, not just for his athleticism, but awarded to the one person who best embodied the spirit of inspiration on and off the snow.
In the spring of 2005, Heath, another wounded service member and an able bodied individual set out to raise money and awareness for other wounded service members. Their goal was to cycle across the United States. They began in Los Angeles and ended 4200 miles later in Montauk, New York. Since Heath is missing both legs, he used a special hand-cycle and had to use his arms and upper body to pedal the 4200 miles! Their endeavor is documented in the Showtime Original Production “Home Front”.
While Heath was trying to be active again and participate in various athletic events, he still found he was limited by having to use a wheelchair for his mobility. After leaving Walter Reed, he tried several times to have prosthetic legs made that would allow him to walk again but nothing worked and it was a very painful process for him. It was now two and a half years post injury and he had given up on using prosthetics for walking and accepted that he would have to rely on a wheelchair for the rest of his life.
In June 2006, Heath attended the Amputee Coalition of America national conference in Minneapolis where he was asked to speak to some of the attendees about hand-cycling. Another injured service member had heard about a workshop being given focusing on bilateral above knee amputees and prosthetic solutions. He contacted Heath the day before and demanded that he attend the workshop in hopes that it would maybe show him that walking was possible with the right equipment and therapy.
The workshop brought together several bilateral above knee amputees that are full-time prosthetics users. This workshop is about exploring possibilities, says moderator Kevin Carroll, MS, CP, FAAOP, Hanger V.P. of Prosthetics. Its a great venue for highlighting improvements, sharing experiences and fine-tuning skills. And for someone like Heath, it can open a door and change a life.
Heath reluctantly attended the workshop as he felt he had exhausted every avenue to allow him to walk again. But when he entered the room, he saw several bilateral above knee amputees walking around with no canes, no crutches, no walkers and no wheelchairs! This was the first time he had ever seen a bilateral above knee prosthetic user being so independent and it really peaked his interest. As the meeting progressed, Heath witnessed bilateral above knee amputees, running, driving a normal unmodified car, walking down hills, playing golf, swimming and many more daily activities.
He decided at that time to give prosthetics one last shot and contacted the company that was having such great success with this level of amputation. He had no idea that his decision was about to totally change his life forever!
After training in short prosthetic legs for several weeks, he was fitted with new sockets and computerized knees. Several days after being fit, he was up and walking independently, without using canes or crutches. More importantly, he was starting to realize that it might be possible to never have to use a wheelchair again.
His new legs and his newly found mobility energized Heath. Today, he is not only walking, but running, swimming, golfing and even hiking. He has not used a wheelchair once since July 5, 2006, the day he was fit with his prosthetic legs.
In May 2007, Heath was honored by the Wounded Warrior Project at their annual fundraising gala held in New York City. He was awarded the George C. Lang Award for Courage in honor of the amazing achievements he has made since he is totally free of the wheelchair.
Heath enjoys competing on a three man relay team at the Challenged Athletes Triathlon in La Jolla, CA. He does the 1.2 mile ocean swim using a custom pair of swimming prosthetics with adjustable feet to allow him to propel himself in the water. He has also taken up golf since he has been out of the wheelchair. Heath enjoys playing in the annual National Amputee Golf Association national tournament. Golf was great therapy for me to learn how to walk again. The Hanger team took me out to the golf course and their I learned how to walk down steep slopes and balance with both of my knees were bent while swinging the golf club. I use my muscles in my limbs to hold me with the knees bent, it is a lot of fun, said Calhoun.
Using his high tech running legs, he also has competed in the Endeavor Games for Athletes with Physical Disabilities running in the 100 and 200 meter sprint races.
An amazing moment came after the 100 meter race at the Endeavor Games. Heath and son Mason were walking together to the start line to prepare for the 200 meter race. His son paused for a moment and said, Hey dad, will you run with me? to which Heath responded, Sure son, let’s run to that second tree and back. They both took off like a shot. What an amazing moment to once again be a dad that is not limited by his tragic injuries he sustained in Iraq.
While his new legs have given him the ability to try many new sports and activities the rewards of being able to walk go beyond athletics. My prosthetic legs give me the option to do things on my own. To go out by myself, be spontaneous and more independent. If I want to take my son Mason to the driving range and hit a bucket of balls, or carry my two daughters around the house, I can just do it. Just knowing that is the best thing.
Heath continues to lead the way and now can drive any vehicle without the need for any modifications or adaptive equipment. He even owns and drives a manual transmission vehicle using his right prosthetic leg to safely go between the gas and brake pedals while the left leg operates the clutch.
Being able to drive any vehicle is something I never thought I would ever be able to do. I can easily put my C-Leg’s in the second mode, a custom setup to allow me to drive with my legs. After I was injured, I was told I would have to use special hand controls to drive. I am glad to say that is not the case at all. Hopefully others with similar injuries to myself will see some of the things I am doing and they will know it is possible for them as well, said Calhoun.
Heath was again recognized by having a NASCAR race named in his honor. The Crown Royal Presents the Heath Calhoun 400 was held in Richmond, VA. It was an experience that I will never forget. I was introduced to racing by my grandfather when I was a child. It was great that he was able to attend the race with me, my family and friends. It makes me proud that Crown Royal honors our nations military, said Calhoun.
Currently his main focus is to become a better ski racer. Heath is a certified mono-ski instructor and is a member of the U.S. Paralympic Ski team. Heath earned a spot on the 2010 U.S. Paralympic Ski team and competed in the winter games in Canada. He was also selected by the U.S. Paralympic Team to carry the United States flag and lead the entire team at the Opening Ceremonies.
He continues to dedicate his time to meeting with other wounded service members at military hospitals and events to deliver the message of hope and courage that he lives everyday.