The blast knocked him unconscious.
When Max Rohn regained his senses, he looked down and saw part of his right leg was missing. His corporal tried to apply a tourniquet. No use.
Rohn grabbed it and applied it himself.
Someone asked if they should call in “a bird,” or an air evacuation. The U.S. Navy hospital corpsman refused. On the ground, among the dust and debris of Fallujah, Iraq, Rohn and his fellow soldiers spirited away. Another soldier pulled the heavy door closed, and they departed.
“We were flying through there,” he said.
On that day in 2009, Rohn was en route to Camp Baharia Marine Corps Base. His convoy was hit by an RKG-3 grenade, which sheared the armored door’s latch from its bearings. Rohn’s rifle, positioned between his legs, protected his left from the blast. His right, however, took the blow.
The next two years brought operation after operation. Rohn estimated he had more than 200 pieces of shrapnel in his legs, many still resting inside each. It would be too destructive to the tissue to remove them all, he said.
Rohn had 15 surgeries in total, the last removing his right leg below the knee. After consulting with doctors, he elected to go forward with the amputation.
“It’s not really an option,” he said. “It’s just kind of the course of action.”
The Colorado native used to play quarterback for his high school football team. He played ice hockey, too. But they were no longer options for the still young man, the former athlete who loved competing. Other choices such as swimming and running didn’t suit him.
“We have a saying,” he said. “ ‘Why run and not eat when you can eat and throw?’ ”
He found his way back to athletics through the Warrior Games, a competition for wounded service members and veterans, competing in the throwing events in track and field. It was challenging, but he had found his niche. He practiced testing out his prosthetic, maintaining technique going into throws and getting used to the torque on his leg.
Now a member of Penn State’s Ability Athletics track and field team, Rohn has competed against some of the best Paralympic athletes from around the world. At the Invictus Games in Orlando, Fla., in May, he won two gold medals, taking the shot put and the discus.
Currently, he’s training for the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August. He finds out if he made the team on July 3.
He doesn’t see himself as disabled, he said. His goal is to compete with the best, whether “able-bodied” or not.
“I’m not done,” Rohn said. “I want to achieve something much higher.”
Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy