RENO, Nev. - Derek Gagne of Menominee, Mich., lost most of one leg, half a foot, hearing in one ear and sight in one eye while serving in Iraq, but two things he hasn't lost are hope and determination.
Despite suffering such life-changing injuries three years ago, the 24-year-old veteran has a positive outlook on life and even has developed a new passion for bowling, which recently led him to the 2011 USBC Open Championships.
Gagne never was involved in organized bowling as a youth, but after returning from Iraq, he started bowling in a league with his stepfather and half brothers at Pla-Mor Lanes in Chilton, Wis.
"They thought it would be good therapy for me, and it's fun," Gagne said. "This year, they needed a bowler on their team for the Open Championships, and I told them I'd love to go. They've already asked me if I want to go again next year, and I immediately said yes."
Gagne has gone back to doing some of the other things he loves to do, too. He plays in a men's basketball league during the summer and races stock cars. He also is enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Marinette where he is studying for a degree in business.
Originally, Gagne planned for a career in the FBI.
"I joined the Army because I liked helping people," Gagne said. "I wanted to be a field agent for the FBI, and being an MP is one of the best ways to get into that area."
In the fall of 2006, Gagne was deployed to Baghdad with the National Guard 759th Military Police Battalion.
A couple of months later, he earned the first of two Purple Hearts when he was hit by a mortar, causing him to lose the hearing in one ear. Two months after that, things unfortunately got worse.
"We were coming back from dropping off some Humvees to get new armor," Gagne said. "It was late at night, and someone set off an IED (Improvised Explosive Device), which most people know as a roadside bomb."
In a just a few short moments, Gagne's entire life was changed, but he did what he knew best and tried helping the people who were with him.
"It felt like something hit me in the chest," said Gagne, who also earned the Bronze Star for bravery. "I couldn't breathe or see anything. I didn't know I had been injured because all I could think about was trying to take the next breath. My driver and my interpreter were both killed. Somehow, I was able to pull my team leader from the Humvee, but she also lost her leg."
While in the hospital in Iraq, Gagne's leg and part of his other foot were removed, and they began reconstructing what was left of his nose. Soon after, they transported him to a military hospital in Germany, where he was supposed to have additional surgeries.
Instead, upon his arrival in Germany, a spot opened up on a plane to the United States, and he was sent to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. He was told he'd be there for 22 months and wouldn't walk for six months to a year. Within two months, he was fitted for a prosthetic leg, and he was walking with a cane two weeks later. His stay lasted only nine months.
"I was running within six months," Gagne said. "I truly believe that Walter Reed is the best hospital in the world. The care I received was amazing."
On the lanes at the Open Championships, Gagne posted scores of 563 in singles, 447 in doubles and 433 in team for a 1,443 all-events total at the National Bowling Stadium.
Click here to watch video highlights from the 2011 Open Championships.
Presenting sponsors for the 2011 USBC Open Championships are Circus Circus, Eldorado Hotel Casino Reno and Silver Legacy Resort Casino Reno. Other sponsors include Sands Regency Casino Hotel, official brackets sponsor, Kegel, official lane maintenance provider, Humana, official registration sponsor, US Steltronic, official scoring system, and supporting sponsors Storm Bowling Products, UPS, Nationwide Insurance, Atlantis Casino Resort and Spa, Harrah's Reno Casino and Hotel and Peppermill Hotel Casino.