Shane and Cindy at home in Ohio.
Photo Credit: Cynthia Parsons

Sometimes the unexpected journey is the one we must take.

The lake water is blue — a blue so deep it’s almost black. In its mirror-like surface, the surrounding trees reflect bright, jeweled ripples of red, green and gold.

A single brilliant orange kayak glides across the glassy water, propelled by churning oars in strong hands. The skipper deftly guides his boat toward the dock, as he knows this day’s journey has reached its end. He is reluctant, though, to leave the freedom of the water.

Stretching up with muscled arms, he is hefted from his vessel and gently lowered into the confines of his waiting wheelchair.

You see, the sportsman navigating these dark blue Ohio waters is a hero. Shane is an Army veteran who was wounded by an EFP explosion while serving in Iraq.

The day Shane was wounded, his mother was in the homestretch of a swing shift in the emergency room of an Ohio hospital. Cindy is a registered nurse, and it was at the end of a long day spent caring for others that she was summoned to the phone and given news that would change her life.

“Your son has been severely wounded.”

“He has lost one of his legs.”

“We’re sorry ma’am, but we’ve had to take the other leg as well.”

It was that day that Cindy knew her journey had changed. The path she’d had planned for her life, for Shane’s, had just taken the most unexpected of turns. More detours lay ahead, Shane also had a traumatic brain injury. Cindy states with an almost optimistic clarity, “We needed to move to Plan C, because Plans A and B were obviously out now.”

This is one of Cindy’s gifts. She has a wonderful way of reminding you that there is always another plan to move on to, another route to choose, no matter how unexpected the journey.

I came to learn of Cindy and Shane’s journey through Traveling Mom’s support of the Bob Woodruff Foundation an organization that helps America’s heroes on their homefront journey.

A decade of war has resulted in trauma, unemployment, depression, substance abuse, homelessness and suicide. The foundation wants to change that, and they know how to to do it. They navigate a maze of more than 40,000 nonprofits that serve veterans, mapping out a path that helps guide these heroes in their journey to successful futures.

bob woodroof foundationIn Shane’s case, The Bob Woodruff Foundation was able to fund a grant that provided him with Endless Pool/Spa for his home.  Carried gently with the water’s healing motion, he finds relief from his wheelchair.  Against a calming current, those strong arms of his pull him along, unleashing the warrior who is always there. The water heals in many ways.

Shane was a high school student on September 11, 2001 when the world changed for us all. He begged his mom to sign him out of school, allow him to follow in the footsteps of both his grandfathers, join the Army prevent hurt like this from ever happening again.

Cindy wouldn’t give in. She understood the value of education, insisted her son finish school, perhaps secretly hoped he wouldn’t be called to serve after all.

Shane wouldn’t forget those towers falling. He’d go on to serve, looking out for others. That’s just what Shane does. On the day he was wounded, he was looking out for someone else. Shane had taken the place of a buddy on that op. He wasn’t supposed to be in that truck that was hit.

At the VA hospital an hour away from home, Shane often comes back out to his mom waiting for him in the car, with a “stray” warrior in need of a hand. He coaches football at a local school. Shane looks out for others.

When Cindy and Shane made their first visit to the 9/11 Memorial after his injury, Shane told his mother that he wanted to touch every name on the marble. His brain injury sometimes makes it hard for him to grasp certain concepts, like the staggering number of names on that list. When she tried to convey how long this would take, he simply replied, “But mom, I’m here for every one of them.”

On Wednesday, November 6th, 2013 the Bob Woodruff Foundation & The New York Comedy Festival presented the 7th Annual Stand Up For Heroes Concert and Comedy event at Madison Square Garden.  Icons the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Jon Stewart and Jerry Seinfeld joined their voices and talents with those of wounded veterans, building to a crescendo that resonated far beyond The Garden.

Shane Parsons and Bill Cosby at the 7th Annual "Stand Up For Heroes" event November 5, 2013 - Source: Jemal Countess/Getty Images North America

Shane Parsons and Bill Cosby at the 7th Annual “Stand Up For Heroes” event November 5, 2013 –
Photo Credit: Jemal Countess/Getty Images North America

This event not only honors these strong, amazing women, men, fathers and mothers by shining a light on their sacrifices, talents and triumphs, it also raises funds to help support the work of countless charities that help these heroes on their journey.

Heroes like Shane.

Shane and Cindy made their third trip to the Stand Up For Heroes event this year. They take this trip to New York as a team, and the going can sometimes be hard. Veterans with traumatic brain injuries, often times those with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can find it difficult to be in confined spaces like airplanes. The logistics of getting to, from and through an airport with a wheelchair aren’t exactly the “leisure” portion of travel. Yet, this is the part of their journey that brings the two of them full circle in a sense and they wouldn’t miss it for the world.

The unexpected journey continues for Shane, Cindy and countless heroes like them. The next time you travel, maybe you’ll find yourself in an airport or perhaps a train station, or maybe just a service station. Maybe you’ll notice a service member in uniform. Take a moment to stop and simply say, “Thank you.” Trust me, it really will mean something to them, no matter where they are in their journey.

You don’t have to support a war to support a hero. Direct donations can be made to the Bob Woodruff Foundation here.


(Part one in a series of stories about the journey and travels of heroes recounted by Scenic Route Traveling Mom, a U.S. Navy Veteran of the Gulf War, mother of a U.S. Marine)