By Emily Bennett, Staff Writer
The 23rd annual Leadership Banquet hosted Travis Mills, one of only five quadruple amputees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to survive his injuries, as the Keynote speaker for the night.
On Mills’ third tour of duty in Afghanistan he was injured by an IED (improvised explosive device), losing both legs and arms and now using prosthetics.“I didn’t wake up for four days,” said Mills. The day he woke up was on his 25th birthday. While he talked, he seemed just like any normal guy.
Mills lit up the silent room with his confidence and tremendous sense of humor. Many may think this would have been a tearjerker presentation, but instead it was an inspirational experience done in a humorous way. Katie Beach, the Michael Winston award winner of the night spoke about his speech. “He was hilarious and that’s part of what made him so relatable,” she said. “It made you feel comfortable hearing his story because it was inspirational.”
Mills has developed the Travis Mills Foundation, a nonprofit organization for wounded or injured veterans. Chelsey Oliver, the Leadership Banquet Committee Chair, said, “He purchased the Elizabeth Arden House in Mt. Vernon. He is fundraising millions of dollars to turn the house into a retreat for military soldiers and their families.”
Oliver saw Mills’ story in the paper and arranged for him to come and speak at the event, “ I wanted a speaker that could speak to the audience and talk about bettering the community,” said Oliver.
Mills said that he had to convince his doctor to let him go to physical therapy as early as he did, once there “I laid on my stomach and slept for 20 minutes.” He was motivated to achieve his goals and refused to give up. “At seven weeks I walked three laps,” he said. Mills has now achieved many of the goals he set and with the use of assistive technology he is able to be very independent, and even able to drive his own car.
While Mills was walking up the stairs to the podium, Oliver led the whole dining hall full of voices in singing “Happy Birthday” to Mills. It had been his birthday the day before. Mills spoke to the audience and referred back to his motto, “Never give up. Never quit.”
During the presentation Mills used his humor to capture the audience. He invited Dani Fossett, a sophomore at UMF to come and feel his prosthetic arm. “It was a really cool experience, I had never felt a prosthetic hand before,” said Fossett. Mills used his humor to trick Fossett into thinking the arm was voice activated, and had her speaking directions to his arm to move it. Once she sat down, he then announced he was moving his arm himself the whole time.
Mills has had numerous support throughout his experience, “This guy following me around is my father-in-law,” said Mills. He has also has the strong support of his wife. When the accident first happened he said to his wife: “Whatever is in the bank account, take it.” He didn’t want his wife dealing with this hardship, but she stuck by his side.
Mills presented numerous pictures from throughout his life in a slideshow, of friends who had passed, and of his family. He left the audience with inspiration. “It makes you want to be that good and positive,” said Beach.
His closing remarks left the audience to think about their daily lives and how to better themselves. “I had to find out what was going to motivate me to get better,” said Mills.
The crowd jumped up and gave him a standing ovation for his humorous and inspiring presentation. His father-in-law encourages people to learn more at Travis Mills’ website http://www.travismills.org/about/.