FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — On Mother’s Day 2016, Alex Hearn awoke to a day much like every other. But by the time he’d go to sleep that night, he would be battling for his life and soon would be without his legs.
While returning from his lunch break that day, his car somehow veered, went up onto the concrete base of a light post which caught the car’s fender well and ended up crushing the foot well where his feet were. He doesn’t remember what happened during the one-car crash, but he remembers waking up in a hospital room.
“I went to work that day and didn’t come home for two months,” Hearn, 48, said. “It was surprising and life changing. But you make the best of it.”
And make the best of it, he did. When Hearn got out of the hospital that July, he started to work with physical therapist Symantha Reenders at Northside Hospital Rehabilitation the next few months.
He was unable to do physical therapy until late September or October because the extensive wounding on the outside of his legs was slow to heal.
His left leg was able to use a prosthetic in September, but his right was more stubborn. It would not be able to use a prosthetic until March of this year, when he then started attempting to walk again.
But the most remarkable part came in the middle of August when Reenders approached Hearn with the idea of competing in the August 70.3 Half Ironman competition as a swimmer on a relay team.
“Things you didn’t really want to do before, you take for granted when you’re fully able-bodied,” Hearn said. “You start wishing that not only could I do it, but desiring to run, swim or bike. It wasn’t a big part of my life before. But when you can’t do it easily, you get the desire to do it.”
That’s a phenomenon that Reenders said happens to a lot of amputees. As a triathlete herself, Hearn said he admired people like Reenders who compete in similar races, and from there a spark was lit.
“I know a lot of people that wouldn’t be able to do races,” Reenders said. “I always think of that when I’m suffering during a race. It’s fun to share stories. I like to help people get out of their comfort zone and try new things. If Alex can do it, someone with two legs or one can do it.”
Just five or six weeks later, Hearn was fit enough that he competed in the swimming portion of the race’s relay, swimming 1.2 miles in the Savannah River.
He received help through the Scott Rigsby Foundation which assists amputees like Hearn in competitions and is the official charity sponsor of that race.
Starting out, Hearn trained in the pool in his backyard doing laps, and eventually worked up to swimming the 1.2 miles in Lake Lanier, all without his prosthetics.
“Before she asked me, I’d only get in my pool with a swimming vest on,” Hearn said. “It was a big step to gain confidence to get in the water without a flotation device. My wife supervised, and I started swimming.”
Aside from the swimming, he works out at the gym and does his physical therapy.
“Especially for people like me, it’s more of a race against yourself,” Hearn said. “I just wanted to see if I could do it. The big thing was ‘don’t quit.’”
Hearn was one of 101 participants that day and said it was emotional when he finished his swim, including having Reenders at the finish.
“It was outstanding and great for her to take part in it,” Hearn said. “She deserves a lot of the glory for it, too.”
Throughout his journey, Hearn said he’s been able to keep a positive outlook on his situation and life. In fact, he was so upbeat, his therapists thought he might be delusional.
“It never hit me like a ton of bricks,” Hearn said. “I was always happy. They didn’t understand why that would be. It takes a lot more energy to be upset and angry than to be happy. You have to go and make the best of it, and it’s what I had to do and how I live. I’ve never been down or angry, that’s just wasted energy.”