As a therapist and an author of a book on mental strength, I love stories about resilient people. So when I heard about Travis Mills and the incredible things he is doing in my home state of Maine, I knew I had to reach out to him.
I was thrilled he agreed to an interview. But he's a busy man. It took several months to coordinate our schedules. And when I finally did get to catch up with him, he called from the airport on his way to a speaking engagement. "I'm going to Hollywood today," he said. "Hollywood Florida that is!"
It's no wonder he's such a popular speaker. Not only is he hilarious, but his positive attitude is contagious.
He's overcome a lot in just a few short years. In 2012, while serving on his third tour of duty in Afghanistan, he was critically injured by an IED. He lost portions of both arms and both legs. He is one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive his injuries.
But, he's not just surviving, he's thriving. In the four years since his injury, he's become a New York Times bestselling author with his book Tough as They Come. He's also launched the Travis Mills Foundation, a nonprofit organization that benefits injured veterans.
And if that weren't enough, he also founded the Travis Mills Group, LLC where he speaks to organizations nationwide about overcoming life's challenges.
I asked him how he manages to be as 'tough as they come' and here are a few things he shared with me:
1. He Keeps Things in Perspective
Mills reminds himself that even though he doesn't have his limbs, he still has his life. "Some of my friends died overseas. They won't ever get to see their wife or their child again," he said. He talks readily about all the things he still gets to do, even without his limbs.
2. He Focuses on His Good Fortune
Almost every sentence he speaks starts with either the words, "I'm lucky" or "I'm fortunate." And you can tell the words aren't just lip service. He really believes it.
He acknowledges that there are days when he feels cheated and he gets angry about what happened to him. But he says, "Whenever I start to feel that way, I just remind myself how fortunate I am." He certainly doesn't waste time feeling sorry for himself.
3. He Challenges Himself to do More
Mills remains fiercely independent. "I don't want to depend on anyone," he says. And the only thing he needs help with these days is putting his prosthetic legs on.
Not only can he drive a car, but he also kayaks, canoes, snowboards, mountain bikes and goes tubing behind a boat. He gets excited just talking about how he loves to jump on his trampoline with his 4-year-old daughter.
It's safe to say he's likely more active than most people. If you check out his Facebook page you'll even see a video of him training for a 5K with his 'running blades.'
4. He Finds Creative Solutions for the Things He Can't Do
He readily admits there are some things he can't do, however. "Let's face it, I'm never going to throw a softball," he said. Of course, that makes playing fetch with his yellow lab a bit complicated.
But, he found a creative solution--he bought a pitching machine. And now he plays fetch with his dog again.
5. He has a Purpose in Life
Mills learned early on that he could still live an active life even without his limbs. And he wants other veteran amputees to know they can do the same.
So he created the Travis Mills Foundation and he's raised over a million dollars already toward his 2.7 million dollar goal. His foundation purchased the Elizabeth Arden Maine Chance Lodge and they're transforming it into an adaptive veterans retreat.
Veterans and their families will be able to spend time together kayaking, swimming, canoeing and doing other activities that some might have assumed they could no longer do without limbs.
6. He Uses Humor
Mills definitely hasn't lost his sense of humor. He makes light-hearted jokes about his situation and himself.
He speaks to groups all over the country and he says he likes to 'disarm' his audience with humor. When he steps on stage, he likes to say, "There are two things you need to know about me; Number one, I'm awesome. Number two, I'm humble. And they're in that order."
7. He has a Support Network
After waking up in the hospital without arms and legs, Mills told his wife to leave him because he thought he would be a burden to her. But she told him, "That's not how this works." He realizes how fortunate he is to have his wife and his daughter for support.
Through the Travis Mills Foundation, he's connecting other soldiers with one another. Mills says many amputees feel isolated and he wants veterans to build a network so they don't feel alone.
8. He Doesn't Think of Himself as a Victim
He doesn't want to be called a 'wounded warrior.' "I'm not wounded. I'm just a man with scars," he says.
His injury doesn't define who is. "I'm not going to let one unfortunate day at work ruin my life," he says. Instead, he keeps pushing forward and says, "Life goes on."
9. He Doesn't Compare Himself to Other People
He says he's not a hero, but he's also not a sob story. And he would never want anyone to think his message is about saying, "You think you have problems, look at me."
Mills doesn't waste any time thinking he's worse off than other people and he certainly isn't looking for sympathy. "My problems are no bigger than anybody else's," he says.
He certainly serves as proof that no matter what challenges you face in life, you have choices in how you deal with them. With the right attitude, just about anything is possible.