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Amputee aims for Paralympics, inspiration

February 3, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
The Summer Olympics will be held in London in late July. Following that will be the Paralympic Games beginning at the end of August, also in London. One cyclist hopes his Olympic goal will be an inspiration to others.

He prefers a mountain over a bike, but it's the Montana mountains that led U.S. Paralympic Team Member Sam Kavanagh to his bike.

"When it gets really hard and it starts to hurt a lot, I always think, 'It's been worse,'" said Sam.

Much worse. Seven years ago Sam and four of his best friends were on a backcountry ski trip. They were caught in an avalanche and it took the life of Sam's best friend.

"He was ultimately buried," said Sam. "We extracted him in eight minutes but he had suffered from a broken neck and was deceased on the spot. And then I was, when the avalanche struck, I was holding on to a large tree that shattered my leg."

His boot was completely backward and a shinbone broke through the skin. It took his friend several hours to drag Sam a half-mile to their tent, and he nearly bled to death as he couldn't get medical attention for two days.

"God told me the only choice I had to make that day was whether I was going to keep me eyes open, or whether I was going to close them," said Sam. "It was close your eyes, you die. Open your eyes, you live."

After two failed rescue attempts, a military crew went against the safety of their own team to get Sam out.

"Laying in the tent you start to reflect on Where's life go from here? But when it really became most clear was probably the day I had my leg amputated," said Sam.

Doctors said he would have multiple reconstructive surgeries, but 13 days after the accident Sam chose amputation.

"I told the doctor that today I want him to cut my leg off. But not so I could go home and get really good at video games and ponder around the house of what life I had lost, but instead so I could walk out of there and I could help others find their purpose," said Sam.

You can see he's a man of his word. There are 40 cyclists trying to qualify for just nine spots on the U.S. Paralympic Team.

"He's got a good chance. If he can put it all together next week and later on in the year and in the summer when we have our trials, he's probably going to make the team," said Paralympic Cycling Director Craig Griffin.

"I was given a story not to put on my bookshelf, but to hopefully use to encourage and motivate others," said Sam.

It's a story that reads like a bestseller.