- Associated Press - Saturday, May 31, 2014

War took Jesse Williamson’s legs. PTSD haunted him, toyed with his sanity. Addiction left him apathetic, hurtling toward prison, maybe worse.

Climbing back onto a dirt bike -with the helping hand of a friend - and racing across the desert brought purpose back to his life.

“I feel alive again,” Williamson said. “It’s like a new experience every time.”

Next weekend, Williamson will attempt to become the first double amputee to compete in the Baja 500 off-road race through Mexico.

It took a long journey in a short time to get there.

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The last coherent memory Williamson has of Aug. 7, 2009 was the Forward Operating Base in Bakwa, Afghanistan appearing in the distance. His squad had just completed a two-day mission to protect a Humvee that had struck an IED - a blast that killed one soldier - and they were looking forward to getting back.

After that, the images are scattershot.

Lying on the ground as his buddies, fellow Marines, stood over him, asking if he knew who they were, where he was. Being loaded into a helicopter. Feeling agonizing pain as two nurses tried to remove his boots. Seeing intermittent visitors come to his hospital room in Germany, including a congressman.

It wasn’t until his parents arrived at the Bethesda, Maryland hospital where he had been moved that he began to understand what happened.

“I remember laying in hospital bed in ICU and seeing my feet, and everything was kind of coming back to me then,” he said. “I didn’t even want my parents to come in and see me.”

Williamson was riding in the gun turret on top of the Humvee when it struck the IED. Four Marines inside the vehicle were killed and Williamson shot 60 feet into the air, landing right back on top of the burning Humvee.

Gunnery Sergeant Joseph Fraley was riding in the vehicle behind and raced to pull Williamson off the wreckage, saving his life.

When Williamson regained consciousness, his entire body hurt. The blast had left him with three broken vertebrae, a broken femur and shattered all the bones in both legs below the knees.

Over the next two and a half years, Williamson had more than 60 surgeries, including amputations of both legs, suffered from PTSD, agonized over the deaths of his friends and became addicted to pain medication. When he arrived at Balboa Hospital in Southern California to continue his recovery and join the Wounded Warrior battalion, he was broken in more ways than one.

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