I saw granddad again

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Chad Crittenden, part of the American300 Warrior Tours and a CBS’ Survivor contestant, speaks to Airmen during the 24th Air Force portion of their visit here Dec. 19. Crittenden lost his right leg to synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. The American300 Warrior Tours is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising the resiliency of American military members, their families and the communities in which they live. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott McNabb)

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Chad Crittenden, part of the American300 Warrior Tours and a CBS’ Survivor contestant, speaks to Airmen during the 24th Air Force portion of their visit here Dec. 19. Crittenden lost his right leg to synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. The American300 Warrior Tours is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising the resiliency of American military members, their families and the communities in which they live. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott McNabb)

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Maj. Gen. Suzanne Vautrinot, 24th Air Force commander, pumps up her Airmen during war fit physical training here Dec. 19. The PT session was unique in that American300 Warrior Tours members Chad Crittenden, CBS’ Survivor contestant, and Mike Schultz, ESPN’s X Games adaptive gold medalist, took part. Both amputees lost their legs and have overcome their setbacks to compete as world-class athletes. The tour visited 24th Air Force, the 68th Network Warfare Squadron, Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center and the San Antonio Military Medical Center. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott McNabb)

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Maj. Gen. Suzanne Vautrinot, 24th Air Force commander, pumps up her Airmen during war fit physical training here Dec. 19. The PT session was unique in that American300 Warrior Tours members Chad Crittenden, CBS’ Survivor contestant, and Mike Schultz, ESPN’s X Games adaptive gold medalist, took part. Both amputees lost their legs and have overcome their setbacks to compete as world-class athletes. The tour visited 24th Air Force, the 68th Network Warfare Squadron, Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center and the San Antonio Military Medical Center. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott McNabb)

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Chad Crittenden, part of the American300 Warrior Tour and a CBS’ Survivor contestant, signs an autograph for an Airman during the 24th Air Force portion of their visit here Dec. 19, 2011. Crittenden lost his right leg to synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. The American300 Warrior Tours is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising the resiliency of American military members, their families and the communities in which they live. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott McNabb)

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Chad Crittenden, part of the American300 Warrior Tour and a CBS’ Survivor contestant, signs an autograph for an Airman during the 24th Air Force portion of their visit here Dec. 19, 2011. Crittenden lost his right leg to synovial sarcoma, a rare form of cancer. The American300 Warrior Tours is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising the resiliency of American military members, their families and the communities in which they live. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Scott McNabb)

LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- I saw my grandfather yesterday.

It was great to see him again. The years have flown by since he passed.

I didn't see his face or hear his laugh; both always ushered in calm and goodness. I saw his champion's heart, unwavering determination and incredible mental toughness in the spirits of fellow amputees who visited my unit Dec.19.

Chad Crittenden, CBS' Survivor contestant, and Mike Schultz, ESPN's X Games adaptive gold medalist, are part of the American300 Warrior Tours. This all-volunteer, nonprofit organization is dedicated to raising the resiliency of American military members, their families and the communities in which they live. They showed everyone gathered that setbacks are just that; anything can be overcome when someone has the right attitude.

Both professional athletes were deeply involved in sports before their lives changed forever. Neither gave up. When cancer took Crittenden's leg and Shultz lost his leg after a bad snocross accident, each reached deep inside himself and carved a path to continued athletic success.

My grandfather, prosthetic leg and all, won more than a few golf tournaments and still drove the ball more than 200 yards off the tee. These guys are hauling in gold medals and spreading their messages of hope and determination by showing mostly deployed military members that they were hit hard but are still in the fight, and they plan to win.

While advances in technology have changed prosthetics immensely and athletes across the board train to a higher standard, the components of a champion remain the same. Champions never give up - even when they lose a limb. They run marathons, ride mountain bikes, race snowmobiles or simply try to be the best at something they're passionate about like Crittenden and Schultz do.

Champions stand tall when doubt from those who gave up long ago cascades around them. They push on and refuse to let their situation determine their effort or their outcome. They also fail, feel pain and accept they're not perfect. But they never give in.

I wondered, but never asked either of them if they feel phantom pain in their missing legs like my grandfather did. Some claim anywhere from 60 to 80 percent of amputees experience phantom pain. Chances are at least one of them does. Probably both of them.

It's hard to contemplate the tenacity necessary to overcome as these men have. Yet they were humble and took time to answer every question. There was no sense of entitlement in their words.

We're not all going to hang medals from our necks. Never giving up can't be quantified by individual recognition. From the demeanor of these men, you knew they would have done everything exactly as they did even if they never won anything again.

The term "able bodied" was spoken more than once during the visit. To see them, it was immediately clear they were more "able" than I've ever been in my life. The term made me reflect on how much room for improvement I have personally. The other Airmen listened just as intently, and I couldn't help but think they were thinking the same.

I may never be an X Games champion like Shultz or blaze a trail faster than Crittenden, but I would like to be the best Scott McNabb I've ever been. And I can. We all can be our best if we put aside our fears and just try.

These guys are inspiring and amazing people. Right up there with my grandfather, James Burk in my book.

It was so good to see him again.