LONDON -- Misconception may lead to thinking a terminally ill person as bedridden in a small, dimly lit hospital room with fluids being intravenously dripped in their arms, they would need assistance doing the simplest of tasks.
Marine Staff Sgt. Jacob Rich, a wounded warrior athlete and 2014 Invictus Games medalist, proves the contrary.
“A hundred percent determination [is what makes me a winner],” said Rich. “In track, I’m never fast - I’m competitive.
“I’m always pushed past my physical limits because of my mental capacity, my mental competitiveness.”
Rich was diagnosed with spinal cord cancer in 2011. A condition, which left his lower limbs paralyzed. During his initial diagnosis, Rich was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, California.
“At that time I wasn’t ready to go over to the Wounded Warrior Battalion, because I felt like I could still be effective at work,” Rich said. “So, I was working until July the next year, and at that point, I realized I was holding a billet another staff sergeant could fill.
“I decided I would go to Wounded Warriors, so [the Marines] could have a fully functional staff [noncommissioned officer] there versus me.”
Rich became a member of the Wounded Warrior Regiment in the summer of 2012.
“I felt like serving a purpose or working was a part of my healing process,” Rich said. “Anybody, who serves a purpose just feels better about themselves. Before, I had deadlines and people depended on me to do something.
“In the Wounded Warrior Battalion, I would show up to formations and go to my appointments. I really needed to be doing something constructive, so that was the real internal conflict with me, and that’s really what brought me to adaptive sports,”
Rich went from living a routine of physical therapy, work and going home to participating in a multitude of adaptive sports four days out of the week.
“I was hooked from the first day. It was really the competitiveness,” Rich said. “My first day, I practiced with the [basketball] team that had been the team from the season before.
Grant Moorhead, Rich’s wheelchair basketball coach for the Invictus Game says, Rich always had a contagious smile and shows nothing but a positive attitude.
“I watched Rich turn in an impressive performance on the track at Invictus,” said Moorhead. “I came upon him later when he and I both knew he had been disqualified from the race because he went about two inches outside his lane.
“I said ‘Hey, tough call.’ He looked at me, smiled, and shrugged. How could you not love a guy like that?”
Perseverance and setting goals in many cases may be exactly what the doctor ordered during times of hardship and sickness.
“They said ‘we’re going to do a couple of warm up laps,’ and I was 100 meters behind them. I was thinking I’ve got to get that fast, that’s where I need to be, right there. Now, I have goals and achievements.”
Earlier this year, Rich’s doctors told him his cancer spread to his brain. At that point, it became terminal.
“It takes a toll on everybody in my family when I have to tell them, but if I keep a positive outlook, it really helps them,” said Rich. “I never really felt sorry for myself.
“We tried chemo, and it didn’t really work out, so I asked ‘Okay, what do you have next for me doc?’ I’ve seen many people who have cancer, and the way you hold your attitude brings you a long way.”
Attitude drives improvement many times, especially when family fortifies the behavior.
“I’m completely optimistic,” Rich said. “I always felt like, what kind of example would I be setting for my kids, had I just given up?
“They’re the reasons I keep going, so I feel like [when I’m competing] I always want to push myself harder and impress them. You’ve got to find something and not be afraid to take those steps. It doesn’t have to be sports, but it’s really finding one thing and not giving up.
Making it through the Marine Corps Trials and traveling to London to compete in track, U.S. basketball and wheelchair rugby teams for the Invictus Games, Rich isn’t just surviving – he’s thriving.
“I was given six months to live in February and what month is it now?” Rich said. “Yeah, I think I passed those six months. I feel as good as I did nine months ago.”
Rich, along with the rest of his team, made it to the final match for both wheelchair rugby and wheelchair basketball, ultimately taking home the silver medal for both events.
“On the basketball court, he was always pushing as hard as he could,” said Moorhead. “It was both an honor and a pleasure to have met and coached Jacob Rich. He raises everyone around him up!”
“All the other athletes, they really motivate me,” said Rich. “I remember the first day I walked into physical therapy and I thought ‘Man, this really sucks. I’m 26 years old, using a walker, this is for old people.’ When I walk in, there’s a Marine there, who is a triple amputee, and he’s in they’re getting some. I’m thinking ‘wow! I’ve got not a thing to complain about.’
“I don’t think there is a reason to give up. It’s really a physical, mental and spiritual battle,” Rich said. “All those things combined is what keeps me positive.
“There are definitely people out there, who are in a worse situation than me,” Rich said. “That really has kept me in check because it doesn’t matter how bad you have it, someone has it worse.”