‘The impact of this place on my life is enormous’: paralyzed army veteran finds peace and happiness thanks to PVA

OMAHA, Neb. (Nebraska) — Army veteran Chris Parnell is in amazing shape.

“We don’t stop playing sports because we get old, we get old because we stop exercising,” said Patrick Reynolds, Parnell’s trainer. “I think Chris is proof of that. I never thought Chris was 50 years old.”

Parnell served from 1989 to 1992 and served in the Gulf War.

“I loved my time in the military and wish I had more time,” he said.

His time was cut when he returned to the states.

“The guy rolled the Hummer 2 1/4 times in the line of duty. We didn’t even make a full circle around the place we were guarding,” Parnell said. “I broke my T-12 and got spinal cord injury. Which meant I couldn’t do my job anymore. I was a cavalry scout, so I did most of my work behind enemy lines.

Parnell was paralyzed from the waist down. His military career is over.

He told me that he was in a very dark place, wondering why this happened to him.

“I would drive around the mall and just look at every person, just wait for them to even look at me.”

More than a decade after the accident, a Lincoln resident saw an article about a fitness center at the Paralyzed Veterans Unit of America’s Great Plains in Omaha.

“I thought, oh man, I need to see how to test this.”

He made it to Omaha and the rest is history.

“He became athletic again; it pulled me out of a dark period,” Parnell said. “Otherwise I would have been stuck in this for almost 13 years.”

Now he travels several times a week to workouts with Reynolds, who is the director of sports and fitness.

“It’s a personalized program for each person, you have a meeting time for yourself, you don’t show up to the gym with 100 people and one trainer,” Reynolds said.

The program is available to paralyzed veterans as well as to all people with disabilities in our community.

In addition, there are no financial barriers that you might see in most cases.

“They (the head of PVA GP) support this program 100 percent financially. We’re asking $25 a month for tuition here, no one’s tracking it, and the last thing I want to do is worry about money,” Reynolds said. “It would be extremely expensive to do it elsewhere because you would have to pay someone to be one on one with you.”

In addition to training in the CrossFit style, Parnell competed in the PVA Great Plains in billiards, bowling, softball and tennis.

“I traveled all over the country playing tennis. I would like to get to the point that I will travel around the world,” said Parnell.

His favorite trip was in 2008 to St. Louis.

“I was the US Open division B champion.”

An achievement that Parnell could not even dream of in 1992.

“The impact this place has had on my life is enormous.”

Parnell told me that PVA is a great opportunity for veterans to get out of the house and connect.

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