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April 30, 2013

Traverse City man has sights set on '16 Paralympics in Rio

TRAVERSE CITY — Craig Vogtsberger has fleeting memories of walking between two military humvees as he trained stateside just before the National Guardsman deployed to Bosnia on a peace-keeping mission.

“I remember looking at them, wrecked, and realizing I’d just been crushed,” he said in a phone interview from Denver.

Twelve years later, Vogtsberger stills suffers from constant pain. Now he helps conquer the pain by training for triathlons.

“It lets me move the pain around,” said Vogtsberger, 38, of Traverse City. “Instead of laying down, suffering and sweating, I get out and the pain transfers from my spine to my muscles. I think it’s human to feel better when you can control things.”

The accident left him with traumatic injuries to his brain and spinal cord, leading to progressive paralysis. His left foot, leg and shoulder, and his right foot are paralyzed.

“My whole nervous system is wrecked, so swallowing, digesting food, breathing — my body struggles with it all the time,” he said. “I have points when my heart will pause and start beating again.”

After the accident, doctors “loaded him up with painkillers,” and told him he’d spend the rest of his life in a chair taking medications, said his mom, Marilyn Vogstberger of Traverse City.

“They gave him no hope of ever feeling better,” she said.

For four years, Vogstberger saw “hundreds of doctors” for surgeries in Veterans Administration hospitals across the country. Between appointments and physical therapies, he sat. One day, he was inspired to watch athletes compete in a Kalamazoo triathlon.

“I thought, ‘They’re free! Look at them swim, look at them bike, look at them run. That’s what I’m going to do,” he said.

He recalls being high on pain medication.

“I looked at the sky, and I thought, ‘Wow, the sky is so beautiful,’ and then I thought, ‘What’s wrong with me?’ I realized my life wasn’t my own. That was 2005. I decided I had enough of this crap,” he said.

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