When Mike Nicholson met Katie, in 2013, he was in the habit of sleeping all day and bar-hopping at night. “I wouldn’t go out of my house unless the sun was down,” he recalled. Mike learned to navigate the Tampa, FL nightlife in his wheelchair – the mode of transportation he had transitioned to after spending two years at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center recovering from a fateful step on a 40-pound IED while on a mission in Afghanistan in 2011. Mike lost both legs and his left arm below the elbow.
“It was a horrible time,” Mike said. “I was angry and self-destructive. I didn’t have a direction or plan for my life. I felt like there was no future for me.”
Fortunately, Katie could envision a future for Mike. “Before my injury, I’d always played sports. Growing up in Florida, I swam before I could walk,” Mike said. “Katie pushed me to get back into physical fitness. I started going to the gym and swam an hour every day.” In 2016, now married, the couple attended the Invictus Games in Orlando, Florida where many of the participants – veterans from around the globe with combat injuries – encouraged him to get involved. Mike began to find purpose and a sense of accomplishment from competing in swimming, track, basketball, and golf against other wounded warriors. Mike also credits Callie, Katie’s 12-year-old daughter, and also an athlete, with motivating him to train.
Yet, daily life still challenged Mike – life as a triple amputee can be physically and mentally daunting.
Katie is Mike’s caregiver. “My husband had been through a really rough period,” recalled Katie, “when we found out I was pregnant.” “MSgt Michael Carter, my husband’s USMC District Injured Support Coordinator (DISC) from the USMC Wounded Warrior Regiment, knew we needed help and connected us with Stacey Fisher, a Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society Combat Casualty Assistance Visiting Nurse,” she continued.
“Since day one, Stacey has been super helpful in all aspects of our lives—mental and physical health, emotional stability, and just guiding us in the right direction to get our lives in order,” said Katie. “We’d try to do something, then get behind, and Stacey would help us.”
Fisher’s moral support has been particularly meaningful for Katie. “Having someone to talk to, someone I can call anytime – someone who will listen to me when times are tough, is important.” Since Mike and Katie’s baby boy, Sawyer, was born last spring, Fisher’s emotional, medical, and logistical support have been invaluable. “I can get overwhelmed at times,” Katie said. “And when my son was first born, I was really overwhelmed and emotional. I knew I could call Stacey anytime and ask her about anything. That brought me peace of mind.”
“Stacey has really provided an extra set of hands,” Katie said. “I couldn’t have traveled to Chicago to support Mike in the DoD-sponsored Wounded Warrior Games without Stacey. I was there with two kids to take care of, while my husband and the other athletes stayed in a different hotel. Stacey helped me keep it together. Having Stacey on our side is like having an extra tool in our toolbox.” Mike adds, “Knowing Stacey was helping Katie helped me concentrate on my events.”
While the Nicholson family effectively manages their health care and medical needs, there are times when they need additional resources, health care education and emotional support. “They know I’m readily available to assist when needs arise,” Stacey explained.
“A lot of military families need additional support, someone they can talk to, someone who can help them come up with solutions.” Katie said.
At the 2017 Warrior Games in Chicago, Illinois, Mike earned six gold medals—three each in swimming and track, as well as silver and bronze medals in track, swimming, and basketball. He even set records with his times in the 800-meter wheelchair racing and 50-meter freestyle swimming events. Because of donors like you, this Marine and his family are facing a bright future.
Watch Mike’s recent interviews, and hear more about his success at the 2017 Warrior Games:
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso