Three years ago this May, my family, along with my husband's parents, and his two sisters and their families, were involved in a very horrible accident. Last week, my brother-in-law was featured in a news video for their local Fox t.v. station. It's difficult for me to watch, but he's so inspiring that I felt I should share. We're all VERY proud of him and his enduring strength!
(I do want to note, at the end, the reporter said there were no other life threatening injuries....only minor injuries. This couldn't have been further from the truth! My father-in-law, who lost his leg, not his arm, almost died, as did my mother-in-law, my sister-in-law, and my son. Their injuries were EXTREMELY serious, so her comment touches a nerve. All did survive and are doing well today.)
TAMPA - If optimism were a drug, Mike Atherton would be addicted.
"It's not the end of the world. Life goes on. And you make the best of it," he explained as he recalled the moment that changed his life.
Atherton came perilously close to dying in a boat explosion back on May 9, 2009, in Tampa Bay near Beer Can Island.
Fourteen family members were on board his father-in-law's Sea Ray cabin cruiser. Paramedics rushed all of them to the hospital, but Mike's injuries were the worst. His mind blacked-out for a month before he woke up.
"For a long time, it was, 'Why did it happen, what happened, how did it happen?' Inconclusive. It's just been one of those things, well, I'll probably never know so you try to put it behind you," said Mike.
Mike is a triple-amputee as a result of the explosion. Modern prosthetics, marvels of engineering, replace his legs and left arm.
He's a dedicated husband and father whose life changed in an instant.
"Like my son started calling me Transformer Shark. That was my nickname, you know, right away. As soon as I got my prosthetics I became a Transformer to him."
How could something so life-altering happen? Investigators speculated perhaps a spark ignited fumes from the boat's generator but never found an answer.
Buoyed by desire and strength, Mike wants to remain the man he was before the accident -- in body and soul. With the help of a personal trainer, Mike puts himself through a twice-a-week grueling workout.
He'll walk, then squat, and spread himself on the gym floor and do one-arm push-ups. That's the last exercise he does during the one-hour workout session. He's determined to push on.
Mike worked as a lineman for Progress Energy near dangerous power lines, often in the worst of weather.
"I thought, if anything, I'd get electrocuted and shocked, hurt at work, climbing poles and digging holes."
Now he spends his days helping his kids Maddie and Quinn with homework, preparing family meals, and picking them up at the school where his wife works as a teacher.
Mike receives disability income, but don't dare call him disabled. A water fanatic since he was a boy, Mike's mission was to always get back on skis.
"I've got a set of water legs. My goal was to do it standing up again."
And he did. Done deal. Up and on the water after two years of building the physical strength.
"My goal for this next year, hopefully in the spring, is to try a pyramid standing up again."
Mike Atherton. Always the optimist.