May 9, 2012
FEATURES, MARINES UNCOVERED
By Lance Cpl. Chelsea Flowers
Veteran Sgt. Robert “Bobby” Norman first met his wife, Melissa, when they were just kids while playing baseball with her older brother.
They dated on and off for years while Norman, a Shawnee, Okla., native, served in the Marine Corps as an infantryman from 1997 until 2001.
Norman left the Corps in 2001 to pursue his dream of playing college baseball, with plans to enter Officer Candidate School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., in February 2008.
But all those plans changed when Norman got in a motorcycle accident in 2007 that left him with a broken back, three broken ribs and a paralyzed left arm.
Suddenly, the Marine veteran, baseball player, and fire and rescue volunteer found himself unable to do many of the things he had once loved.
“It’s either roll over and die or get on with life,” Norman said. “It wasn’t long after that I realized I was awarded a second chance. It may be tougher to do the every day things, but at least I can.”
So, continuing his life as best as he could was just what Norman decided to do.
The first thing Norman did was reunite with the woman he had loved most of his life. When Norman asked Melissa to marry him, he held up his lifeless left arm and said, “This is how it’s going to be.”
But for Melissa, the accident didn’t make a difference.
“It didn’t in any way change how I felt about him,” Melissa said. “I mean, I’ve been in love with that boy since I was like 14. I met him when I was eight and decided I was going to marry him after our first date when I was 17. He was just minus an arm. It didn’t change who he was as far as his personality and his heart.”
The next few years meant a lot of adjustments for the young couple and even more for Norman.
“It was frustrating at first, but where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Norman said. “I’ve always gotten it done. It may take me ten times longer, but I’ll get it done.”
Over time Norman began to adjust to the change in his life. But in September 2009, Norman faced a whole new adjustment when Melissa gave birth to their daughter, Taelyr.
“At first, Bobby was worried because he would never be able to throw her up in the air and wondered how he was going to teach her to play softball,” Melissa said. “But he’s found a way to do everything. I mean, this little girl doesn’t know anything different. She has no idea he is missing an arm. She just knows that’s her dad. It doesn’t matter to her at all.”
Even with only one functioning arm, being a dad came naturally to Norman. After eight weeks, Melissa returned to work and Norman stayed home for several months to take care of Taelyr. That meant making bottles, doing laundry and changing diapers – all with one arm. If at first Norman couldn’t do it, he’d figure out a way to do it, Melissa said.
Then in August 2011, since limb salvage attempts failed, doctors amputated Norman’s arm and fused his humerus to his scapula.
Initially, this new change was difficult for Norman. There was now no chance of ever getting the use of his arm back and Norman thought there was no hope of continuing to live an active life.
But individuals with the Challenged Athletes Foundation contacted Norman and told him about the possibility of playing adaptive sports. Now, just eight months after the amputation, Norman competed on the All-Marine Warrior Games team in Colorado Springs, Colo., against other injured, wounded and ill service members from all the military branches.
“After the amputation I was really down in the dumps for two or three months, and it wasn’t until after I talked to the sports people that I really began to pull myself out of it,” Norman said. “The spirit of competition and the camaraderie of being back with a bunch of Marines has been phenomenal as far as my rehabilitation goes.”
Even Melissa has noticed a change in Norman since he’s begun playing sports again.
“He came home with a whole new spark about him,” Melissa said.
At the Marine Corps Trials at Camp Pendleton, Calif., in March and the Warrior Games this past week, Norman competed in both track and swimming competitions with two gold and one bronze medal in swimming.
“Getting back into sports is so therapeutic for me,” Norman said. “The Warrior Games and the Marine Corps Trials have been such a blessing to me. I’ve made a 180-degree turn as far as my physical ability. I’m in so much better shape. I feel better at the end of the day and the stronger my back gets, the less it hurts. I’m not even halfway there yet.”
Now Norman is even more motivated to continue to live his life to the fullest.
“I want to work with kids and maybe one day I’ll be where I can work with disabled kids or wounded warriors,” Norman said.
Until then, when Norman’s not maintaining the sports facilities at Oklahoma Baptist University, he can be found on his farm in Oklahoma riding horses with Taelyr and Melissa and tinkering on cars.
“I’m just so proud of him,” Melissa said. “He drives me every day. He’s the reason I get up and go to work every day and strive to be the best mom I can be because he is the very best dad, the very best husband, the very best son and the very best friend to everybody. He is so selfless.”