Marine who lost limbs in Afghanistan makes tandem jump to celebrate living
When Marine Lance Cpl. Tim Donley hit dirt and skidded to a halt, he raised one arm and let out a victorious, echoing whoop.
His 10,000-foot tandem jump landed him a goodly way from his wheelchair, which bears the sticker, "Afghanistan, I Served."
The legs to his jumpsuit were rolled up and taped above the knees.
Saturday was Donley's "alive day," the one-year anniversary of the IED blast that took his legs and the function of his right arm.
But not his life.
And not his faith.
The tandem jump had been organized in only four hours by former special operations soldiers, CIA personnel and Navy Seals to celebrate his ongoing recovery. Donley and his family spent the day at TigerSwan Range Complex in Stedman, which provides training to military and law enforcement personnel.
Donley's parents were escorted down a winding gravel road to the range by a Cumberland County Sheriff's Office deputy and about 20 Patriot Guard Riders on rumbling motorcycles.
They call Donley their Gulf War baby.
Born in Jordan and surrounded by missionary work, Donley grew up speaking Arabic. And how his parents have spent their lives helping to strengthen foreign nations, they now help their 21-year-old son rebuild his strength.
Organizers held a brief ceremony, handing Donley military T-shirts and commemorative coins. He was handed a signed, framed poster of former Gator football quarterback Tim Tebow, too. There is a photo of Donley doing the classic Tebow pose in his prostheses.
Gregg and Kathryn Donley craned their necks and hugged each other as their son's green parachute slowly zig-zagged to earth.
"There have been more victories over the past year than defeats," Kathryn Donley said. "You can look at it as the day you lost your legs or look at it for what it is, really, the day that I survived."
Tim Donley was on a dismounted patrol with Camp Lejeune's 1st Battalion, 8th Marines when he was targeted by an improvised explosive device in Helmand Province in Afghanistan.
Marines instantly surrounded him, applying tourniquets, and his parents got the call every parent fears: "Your son is very seriously injured."
Kathryn Donley said her son, the bravest person she knows, never seemed angry after losing his legs, and his slow recovery involves pain and patience.
"He just knows there's a reason and he'll see it as time goes by," Kathryn Donley said.
On his "alive day," Tim Donley shook hands, prayed and shot M4 carbines and AR-15s on the range. And he said the tandem jump that morning was like being thrown into space.
"I'm going to be doing this again sometime soon, that's for sure," he said. "This is something somebody never forgets."