December 2016 edition of US Lacrosse Magazine. We’re reposting it today in observance of Veterans Day and in recognition of all members of the lacrosse community who have served or currently serve our country in the armed forces.

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"> U.S. Army Capt. Ben Harrow Refused to Let Go | USA Lacrosse Magazine

PHOTOS BY BRIAN SCHNEIDER

In observance of Veterans Day, we revisit the story of U.S. Army Capt. Ben Harrow.

U.S. Army Capt. Ben Harrow Refused to Let Go


This article, a profile of U.S. Army Capt. Ben Harrow, first appeared in the December 2016 edition of US Lacrosse Magazine. We’re reposting it today in observance of Veterans Day and in recognition of all members of the lacrosse community who have served or currently serve our country in the armed forces.

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Army Capt. Ben Harrow trotted onto the field at St. Paul’s School (Md.) on June 22, 2016, with one mission: to play lacrosse for the first time 11 years.

Harrow, a hard-nosed attackman who became a short-stick midfielder at West Point, was accustomed to using his legs to his advantage. But this time, he came to the Shootout for Soldiers veterans’ game equipped with two prosthetic limbs.

Regardless, he threw on his blue Shootout for Soldiers jersey, grabbed a goalie stick and headed to the crease.

“Ben just kind of slid in,” Shootout for Soldiers founder Tyler Steinhardt said. “It wasn’t some big deal that all of sudden he was in net. He was pitching a shutout. … They were running up the field and getting shots on net, and Ben was making saves. It was incredible.”

With every save, a roar came from the sidelines.

“Did you see how many kick saves I made?” Harrow asked Steinhardt, who was watching incredulously.

As soon as the final whistle blew, Harrow’s teammates, including former Army teammate Erik Mineo, rushed onto the field to congratulate him. It was a moment years in the making, but one that no one doubted would come.

Harrow had been preparing to take his life back since May 15, 2012, when he lost both legs after stepping on a pressure-plate improvised explosive device while deployed in Afghanistan. It took multiple surgeries and extensive rehabilitation, but Harrow wanted to walk and, in some fashion, play lacrosse once again.

That came to fruition at the Shootout for Soldiers event.

“For me, it’s almost like closure,” Harrow said. “It wasn’t trying to reopen something like my lacrosse career. If anything, it was adding a good exclamation point to it, where I was able to step onto the field one more time with my friends and play lacrosse, the game that meant so much to me.”


Amid the chaos, Harrow drifted. “Sorry Gina,” he said to himself as his eyes shut.


 

 

From the December 2016 edition, photos of U.S. Army Capt. Ben Harrow, a double leg amputee who returned to the lacrosse field in 2016. Portraits by Brian Schneider. Additional photos by John Strohsacker and courtesy of the Harrow family.

Harrow’s relationship with lacrosse began on Long Island, where he began playing in seventh grade. His love for the game only grew when he starred at attack at Woodbury Forest School (Va.) and got multiple college offers, settling on Army to be part of “something bigger than” himself.

He moved from attack to midfield his freshman year, and then from midfield to defensive midfield in his junior year. He tried to get better even when he wasn’t required.

“Even on that one day [practice was cancelled], because it was snowing so bad or whatever, and even though we were right over the Hudson River with no wind block between us, Ben would still go out and find some way to improve himself and stay sharp,” said Matt Ellement, Harrow’s former Army teammate.

Just months after graduating from West Point, Harrow, along with teammates like Ellement and Chris Couch, headed to infantry training in Fort Hood, Texas. In 2006, Harrow and Couch were sent to Iraq on a 15-month mission.

“You practice it and rehearse it, but once you get into the flow of things, it’s adrenaline pumping and it is a little bit chaotic,” Harrow said, likening the experience to lacrosse. “I remember playing a lot of bigger games with bigger crowds and that same adrenaline pumping, that same pressure that you feel is very similar to combat.”








Harrow came back from his first deployment a captain, and was next sent to the Uruzgan Province in Afghanistan, where he led a team of Green Berets against the Taliban until returning to be with his wife, Gina, for the birth of his first child, Peyton, in 2011.

But just a year later, Harrow was summoned for duty a third time — this time in the Kandahar Province in the Panjawai district of Afghanistan.

Five months into the deployment, Harrow was working a routine mission with Afghan security forces. He walked into a doorway, took a step and felt the brunt of the biggest blow he’d ever experienced.

He had stepped on a 10-pound pressure-plate IED and flew several feet in the air before realizing what had happened. Harrow lost both of his legs above the knee, two fingers and damaged a portion of his right forearm in the blast. He slowly lost consciousness, but thought of his family to keep him awake.

“It was a picture that I had back in my hut, back in the fire base, of my wife and my son,” he said. “I felt like I was sitting in the picture and I just didn’t want to die. Whatever was trying to take me, I just refused to go.”

Amid the chaos, Harrow drifted.

“Sorry Gina,” he said to himself as his eyes shut.




PHOTO BY BRIAN SCHNEIDER

Harrow pictured during one of his three deployments to the Middle East.


Harrow flew to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and once he was stable, he headed to Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

There, doctors told him he would be discharged in 4-6 months. He stopped taking pain medications early on and rolled out in a wheelchair in just two months. But his femur was too short to fit prosthetic limbs.

“I wanted to find the solution,” Harrow said. “They gave me the, ‘At least you’re alive and you’ll be in a wheelchair. This is life.’ I told them I was a collegiate athlete and a Green Beret. I get that the wheelchair is going to be part of my life, but I want to be up and walking.”

While researching how he could fix his femur, Harrow stumbled upon a procedure used on models in China where doctors broke shinbones to have them grow back. It was farfetched, but he asked doctors to see if it was plausible.

Harrow found Dr. Mark Dahl in Minneapolis, who agreed to make him the first amputee patient in America approved for this remarkable procedure — called an osseo-distraction — that would add 2-3 inches to his femur.

Dr. Dahl inserted a rod into Harrow’s leg. It took 11 months and three different surgeries, but Harrow grew back 6.5 inches of his femur — setting world records for the shortest stump ever lengthened and the most bone regenerated.

The process worked so well that it has become the standard at Walter Reed for soldiers with similar injuries. It gave Harrow the chance to wear prosthetic legs, walk again and maybe even play lacrosse again.

“That was one of the things that drove him to be so successful in his rehab was to get back on the lacrosse field,” said Couch, who graduated from special ops training with Harrow. “I know that meant so much to him and everyone that saw him.”

Harrow attended previous Shootout for Soldiers events in 2013 and 2014, but was determined to make it back on legs. By June 2016, he was ready.

He took the field with Mineo, the Army faceoff specialist who grabbed a long pole to help his best friend on the back line.

“Him and I taking the field again, just like we did a decade before at West Point,” Mineo said. “Step by step, him taking goal and me getting the long pole, it just felt right. We’re a team again. Yes, we can fight together again.  … There was no place in the world I wanted to be than right there with him.”

Harrow hit another milestone in his recovery when he stepped back on the lacrosse field, but he’s far from done. He’s competing internationally in sled hockey and intends to coach lacrosse at Gonzaga High School (D.C.).

If it’s possible, Harrow said, he’ll do it.

“I have no legs, but I have to keep going with the mission,” he said. “What else am I going to do? Why quit now?”