Navy veteran turns to sports & becomes mentor after traumatic, life-changing injuries
MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- Ajay's Mohammed's first and only deployment in Iraq back in 2003 ended shortly after a bomb explosion caused severe injuries, now, he aims to inspire others to take a new shot at life.
Mohammed is a first-generation immigrant and the first in his family to swear allegiance to the U.S.
“For me, just, there’s no moving parts except you," he explained as he played indoor golf. "The ball is not moving, it’s just sitting there, all you literally got to do is just swing at it with a stick and the golf club is going to do the rest.”
These days, he considers himself somewhat of a sports junkie.
"For the past 6 years I’ve been rocking, smashing and leading dog-sled teams, fishing in Alaska, butt on fire going down the Yellowstone river, whitewater kayaking, drove a race car on a frozen lake, flew a plane, participated in Paralympic events,” he added.
The journey to get to where he's at today however, took time. In fact, it took 10 years.
"My life before where I’m at today was rough in finding the motivation to get up, finding the motivation to self-care, finding the motivation to even want to live” Mohammed said.
The incident caused him to be completely blind in the right eye and have low-vision in his left eye-- just enough to see shapes, shadows and general outlines. Despite it, he is actually really great at sports.
"It's kind of funny, I think I do more being visually impaired than I would have done with sight," he said giggling.
In 1999, Ajay Mohammed joined the U.S. Navy out of Milwaukee.
"I joined the Navy to help pay for college, help finish my education and graduate," he explained. "Get a little bit of life experience, travel, see the world and retire for 20 years and move on to pursue my career that I was looking forward to... was in federal law enforcement; that was my original plan and goals."
He became a part of the U.S Navy Security Detail. He earned the title of 'Master of Arms First Class'--a job he said he loved.
"Just truly finding something that gave me purpose and a sense of mission and quality of life that I wanted to lead as I got older," he said.
That vision however, took a turn. Just shortly after turning 24 years old, on his first and only deployment in support of 'Operation Iraqi freedom, he was severely injured.
"In May 2004, I suffered blast injuries in ambush in Iraq and from there medically, evacuated," Mohammed said.
From there to Kuwait, Kuwait to Baghdad, Baghdad to Germany, then all the way to Bethesda, Maryland where he was treated for his injuries and deemed medically capable to receive plastic surgeries. After two years, he was finally able to go home.
"I suffered spinal cord injury, traumatic brain injury, vision loss, hearing loss, multiple facial fractures," he added.
And on top of that denial.
"At that point, it was like a brick wall of 'this is not real, this is a dream for me to experience and to live through and to accept'” he told CBS 58 Sunday Morning.
Then came post traumatic syndrome.
"The war may be over but for a lot of us veterans, we’re still recuperating, we’re still coming back from that trauma, we're still trying to find ourselves," he said.
In 2014 he discovered Semper Fi & America's Fund--a non-profit organization that provides a variety of programs to assist wounded veterans in all branches of the U.S. Armed Forces. Helping families with financial and emotional support. He said it's largely because of them that he is now able to help others who are also on a similar path to recovery.
"I am now that mentor to other people who are now re-emerging, who are now venturing out in life, who are curious, maybe who are anxious to know what more can they do," he said.
He's learned not to let his disabilities define him. He's had to rely on others--like his caretaker wife Grace and golf coach Rob Elliott to guide and support him.
“I became a better instructor because with Ajay, he can’t see the things that everybody else can, so I had to move his body in certain ways," Elliott said, the owner of Rob Elliott Golf Academy in Pewaukee.
Elliott is also the national co-chair of PGA Hope, a veteran-based program free for veterans and active military people that introduces golf to those with disabilities to enhance their physical, mental social and emotional well-being.
Elliott said they are hoping to reach over 11,000 veterans nationwide.
"There are still barriers but breaking down those barriers will allow us to be better members of society and be productive, and to help us have a quality of life that we also deserve, that we all are pursuing," said Ajay Mohammed.