RALEIGH, N.C. — The story of Nathan Rimpf, Army Ranger, double amputee, proud graduate of Leesville Road High School, has circled the globe on a yellow wristband.
With a few clicks on Facebook, you can see the rubber bracelet bearing Rimpf’s name photographed in front of the Bellagio Fountain in Las Vegas, in the stands at Yankee Stadium and on the wrist of Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
The online campaign – “Where in the World Are Nathan’s Wristbands?” – offers a worldwide salute to the Raleigh soldier wounded in Afghanistan and props him up as starts a new life on prosthetic legs.
“I don’t even know half these people,” said Rimpf, 24, gushing over the outpouring while recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. “I’ve never even been to Minnesota.”
On July 8, 1st Lt. Nathan Rimpf was leading his platoon through a dusty passageway in the Anbar province when he stepped on a homemade bomb the size of a coffee can.
The blast sent him flying backward, and when he landed, both legs were crumpled under his rear.
“I felt like I got nailed by a fullback coming out of the backfield,” he said. “I saw my legs weren’t going to make it. I went ahead and accepted that.”
Severely wounded, Rimpf managed to stay conscious and guide his platoon out of the area, issuing orders while a tourniquet was fixed around his broken limbs. Within 15 minutes, he was aboard a Medevac flight for surgery. When he woke, he had one leg amputated through the knee and the second just above the knee.
“I had a lot more leg than I thought I would have,” he said. “So the first thought I had was a positive thought.”
His coolness came through years of preparation. Rimpf started collecting G.I. Joe figures in the third grade, already eyeing a military career. He stayed active in ROTC from Leesville Road through college at East Carolina University, where he graduated in 2010.
“They told me I couldn’t be a Navy SEAL because my eyesight wasn’t perfect,” Rimpf said.
Once Rimpf arrived at Walter Reed, his sister Bridget in Raleigh started the wristband idea, asking for a $5 donation. Rimpf’s medical care is covered, and his mother receives a per diem for staying with him in Maryland. But both his parents, like the many with wounded family members, have huge burdens from lost wages.
Rimpf’s mother, Cindy, thought they might sell a few hundred bracelets, which show her son’s name, rank as first lieutenant and the motto “Rangers leading the way.” So far, they’ve sold more than 2,000.
“It’s become this really fun competition,” Cindy Rimpf said.
The Facebook page grew from the fundraising idea, encouraging supporters to snap pictures of Rimpf’s bracelet in as exotic a locale as possible, and with as many famous faces. Rimpf’s uncle in Texas mailed one to Perry, who obliged with a picture. The uncle also persuaded Olympic runner Carl Lewis to sport one.
Online, the bracelets appear dangling from a cactus at Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado, at a Kenny Chesney concert at FedEx Field outside Washington, on a length of razor wire in Zabul province in Afghanistan, and at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
“Did you see the one with the olives, in a Bloody Mary?” asked Sherrie Campbell, the mother of Rimpf’s high school girlfriend. “We were in the airport waiting for a plane to Dallas, just thinking of Nathan.”
Another high school friend, Amanda Long, has posted pictures of the wristband in Boston, Philadelphia and Florida. Her mother, Karin, took one on a trip to South Africa and arranged to have Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius pose with it. Her next stop: Antarctica.
Meanwhile, Nathan has managed to walk a half-mile on prosthetic legs. Later this year, he plans to hand-bike the Army Ten-Miler race in Washington.
Perhaps, when Rimpf crosses the finish line, he’ll snap a photo of his own wrist, thumb pointing up.