UNIONTOWN – Meeting retired Marine Cpl. Brandon Rumbaugh, 24, of Uniontown, for the first time is like catching up with an old friend.
Sitting on his sofa, popping Skittles in his mouth, Rumbaugh just returned home from classes at Penn State Fayette. Next he will be off to train, a nightly ritual. This isn’t surprising from a former three-sport high school athlete. It is the rest of his story that makes it amazing.
“If you’re not busy then you are going to think about it. Then you are going to get depressed and start feeling bad for yourself. Then you get other people feeling bad for you,” Rumbaugh said.
On a mantel above his head is a frame with the words, “Find something you’d die for and live for it.” It fits.
He recently qualified for the Paralympic Games in weight lifting.
On Nov. 11, 2010, squadron leader Rumbaugh had just come off of a patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. It was his second tour of duty overseas, his first was in Iraq. But, this day was a game changer. Rumbaugh had just moments to react when a fellow Marine stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED). If he left him where he was until a helicopter arrived he probaly would have bled to death.
“The kid was with us on his first deployment. I had been doing a patrol and I’d just gotten back when I heard it go off,” he said. The sound had become way to familiar for Rumbaugh. He had been the victim of shrapnel from IED’s going off in the past on multiple occasions.
Despite this, Rumbaugh took the stretcher in his hands and walked toward his Marine. He made it about 15 feet when he felt the blast of another IED. Rumbaugh said he didn’t feel the pain, probably because his body went into shock. He was conscious until he was placed into a helicopter and received pain medication that knocked him out. He said he’d do it all over again.
“It was very time sensitive. You don’t do it and he dies and you think about it. You’ve got to at least try,” he said. The Marine, Lance Cpl. Richie Chavis, made it. He and Rumbaugh still talk.
Rumbaugh lost both legs above the knee. After being stabilized at Camp Leatherneck Hospital he was flown to Germany to a first-rate hospital.
He would eventually be brought stateside to complete rehabilitation at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center near Washington, D.C. If he had to do it all over again he would. In fact, he would have re-enlisted for another four years given the opportunity. He said he would have liked to have done a second stint in Afghanistan but finds it hard to explain to someone who hasn’t been in the military why that is. The bond with his military family, the shared experiences, doing a job for the greater good, the combination of all of these play into it.
In July 2012, Rumbaugh came home to Pennsylvania and got busy. The way he figures it, he has a window of time to accomplish a lot of the things he wants to do.
“Most of us who got hurt are 18 to 24. That gives you about 10 to 12 years. By the time you get to 40, with our situation, it won’t be easy to do those things,” he said. “Not only are you getting older but also have other limitations.”
In his two-story house on Pittsburgh Street, Rumbaugh and his service dog, Zoey, stay primarily on the first floor. He hasn’t ventured upstairs in a long time. He is too tired at the end of the day to make the climb. That circumstance is scheduled to change by Christmas when he and Zoey will move two miles down the road to a new custom-designed one-level home from the Homes for Our Troops organization.
“I’m so tired at the end of the day I just sleep on the couch. I can’t wait. I’m excited,” he said.
In the meantime, as he pursues his bachelor of science in business, Rumbaugh ticks off a lot of other things he wants to accomplish, including racing quads. He had ridden one as a kid but never raced them.
That was then and this is now. In just one season, Rumbaugh has won third place in three New East Coast ATV races with a quad custom made for him by Waynesburg Yamaha. It was at Waynesburg Central High School that Rumbaugh played two years of high school ball.
He is part of Vigilant Vet Racing (VVR), a non-profit organization started this past spring by a veteran to help disable vets race. Rumbaugh is one of the first to team up with VVR. To his knowledge, he was the only double amputee racing in the East Coast series. He plans to move on to the Grand National Cross Country series next and this is not a racing series for the disabled. Rumbaugh’s quad is what makes it possible for him to get out there and be competitive in these races.
“It has a hand shift and rear brakes on the handlebars. They built a custom suspension for it since I won’t ever be able to stand up on it and will be sitting the whole time,” he said. He has a prosthetic leg for one side but finds it impractical. “It actually slows me down so I decided not to wear it.”
When he isn’t racing or attending classes, the focus shifts to weightlifting.
At 133 pounds Rumbaugh, then 22, won his weight class at the National Veterans Wheelchair games. He lifted 280 pounds. The Paralympic record for his weight class is 308 pounds. Before he was injured Rumbaugh was lifting a best of 450 pounds and he said weightlifting is something he has always enjoyed.
Being able to still do it “shows that maybe not so much has changed. It’s just a different way to look at it, not just something bad happening, but rather something that opened up other opportunities for me.”