Person of the Week: Tim Medvetz and the Heroes Project

He helps injured soldiers overcome fears and world's highest peaks.

July 1, 2010, 10:02 PM

July 2, 2010 — -- Matt Nyman was told he'd never walk again. He was a sergeant first class in the Army in Iraq in 2005 when he lost his right leg and his left foot was crushed in combat.

"I was missing my leg and my back was damaged. I had a collapsed lung and a bad bruising on the other one, on my chest. I had a compound femur fracture, which damaged the peripheral nerves to my left foot. And my foot was crushed," said Nyman, of North Carolina, and now retired.

But Nyman has found inspiration and support from an unlikely source: Tim Medvetz, 40, a former nightclub bouncer from Los Angeles who once rode with the Hell's Angels.

"I know what it is like to be laying in that hospital bed. I know what is going through their [soldiers'] heads. Can I ever be a man again, you know?" Medvetz said.

Medvetz nearly died in a motorcycle accident in September 2001 but bounced back -- pieced together by doctors with metal rods and pins -- and climbed Mount Everest, the world's highest, in May 2007.

With private funding, he started helping injured soldiers reach the summits of the tallest mountains in the world. And in 2009, he finally gave his plan a name, founding the Heroes Project.

If you want to learn more about the Heroes Project, click here.

"I want to take one soldier at a time and change one guy's life," he said.

Though he had the ambition, he didn't have the money. But he did have a famous friend in the actress Cher. Her Cher Charitable Foundation has supported veterans' causes for years. She saw great promise in Medvetz's idea.

"Going to the top of the mountain is important, but it's going to the top of your fear mountain that's important," she said.

So far Medvetz has helped three soldiers conquer that fear.

U.S. Army Sgt. Neil Duncan, a former paratrooper, and Medvetz attempted Tanzania's Mount Kiliminjaro, Africa's tallest mountain, in the summer of 2009. Duncan lost his legs in Afghanistan and wears prosthetic limbs.

"Climbing those inclines, in this mud. ... It's the most difficult thing I have probably ever done," said Duncan.

He and Medvetz did not reach the summit, though. The challenge of climbing with prosthetic legs added days to the trek and supplies ran critically low.

Medvetz said Duncan could have made it to the top. "Absolutely. That kid is absolutely the toughest guy I have ever met in my entire life," he said.

Scaling Mount Elbrus

"The whole time we were hiking up, we were talking about the guys in Walter Reed [Army Medical Center]. To remember the days back laying in a bed, seeing my leg gone and just wondering how am I going to get on with the rest of my life," said Army Sgt. Keith Deutsch, a machine gunner who lost his right leg in Iraq in 2003.

Last summer, he and Medvetz reached the top of Russia's Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe.

"I am looking at the summit and I was just like, 'Wow. If I can do this, I can do anything. There is nothing I can't do," said Deutsch after the trek.

Nyman, the retired sergeant first class who lost his leg in Iraq, spent a grueling three weeks with Medvetz in late May and early June, climbing to the top of Mount Denali in Alaska. It's the highest peak in North America.

When they reached the top, the two hugged. "Thank you," said Nyman. "You're welcome, man. I never doubted you. I never doubted you," Medvetz said.

"Everybody has their own challenges to get over and their goals to find and go toward," Nyman said. "I'm the testament to if you just focus on recovering as fast as you can, focus on getting your life back, there's no injury that is going to hold you back."

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