I grew up in Baytown, Texas about 30 miles east of Houston. As a kid I was always looking for adventure. I was the one who would drag his mattress out in the yard while mom was gone so that I could jump off the roof and land on it. I was the one who could always make that bicycle jump that no one else would dare to try, even if it left me with a broken arm. Fear was my friend. The adrenaline achieved by doing dangerous things was something I thrived on. In high school I got into bull riding and broke a femur, but recovered fine. I broke my back on the Trinity River kneeboarding at 17 and recovered fine. I thought I was invincible.
Once out of high school I had to grow up, so I went to school to be an aircraft mechanic. I have always loved working on things and knowing how they operate. School was a breeze for me and soon I was working on the F-22 Raptor at Lockheed Martin in Ft. Worth, Texas. This was the highlight of my career. I was working on the best fighter plane in the world, something most could only dream of. A couple of years later I was laid off due to the Air Force cutting down on orders and I moved back home to Houston to work in the oilfield. I became a mechanic on oil rigs and, finally, offshore as a hydraulics and electronics technician for subsea equipment.
During this time I was missing something. I had lost that adrenaline seeking mentality that I had once had as a kid. So I went skydiving. My life was changed in an instant! I had finally found what I had been looking for for so many years. This was the ultimate feeling of adrenaline and excitement that I needed to survive. Skydiving was my life from then on. Every weekend, any chance to skip work, whenever and wherever, I was there! In two and a half years I had racked up 120 skydives.
In the middle of April, 2010 I was sent offshore to a rig called the Transocean Deepwater Horizon operated by global oil giant BP. On the way to the rig I was detoured to one of our offshore support vessels where I would stay until they were ready for me on the rig. As I landed on the vessel, there was a sense of urgency all around. I had no idea that the Deepwater Horizon had just exploded and we were on the way to help put out the fire and look for survivors. This was a humbling feeling because I could have been one of those lost at sea. We stayed at the site for three days until the rig sank and then I was sent home.
The minute I landed on shore I headed for the drop zone. I needed my skydiving fix. I was scheduled to go to Singapore the next day and couldn’t miss out on a chance to jump, even if it was just once. When we got to the drop zone the winds were very sketchy from the west, which meant that we would be landing towards the hanger and all of the other out buildings. I didn’t care. I knew the risks, but knew that this might be my only chance to jump for weeks.
I grabbed my rig and headed for the plane along with my best friend. The jump was great although we did go a little low and opened at 1800 feet, which is supposed to be 3000 feet. I thought every extra second of freefall was worth the risk...until I opened my chute. I had tension knots all in my right brake line causing me to not be able to use my brakes or turn right with my toggle. The mechanic in me tried to fix it, although I should have cut it away immediately! With the lack of altitude going against me, I was coming down fast.
At 1100 feet I knew that I could not fix it and decided to cut away. However, before I pulled the cutaway handle I looked down and realized that I was too low and that if I cutaway I could hit the ground before my reserve had time to open, meaning instant death. Instead, I decided to use my rear risers, which will give you control but takes inputs very slowly. Turning with rear risers and not toggles is like comparing a school bus to a Porsche. Stopping with rear risers is much the same, but I had no choice. I knew that I would be going fast as I approached the ground but figured I could run it out even though I had never done this before.
As I flew my pattern, I came up on final to land. Since I was using my rears to fly my pattern, I was not losing as much altitude on each turn as you would using toggles, so when I turned on final I knew that I was going to overshoot the landing and hit the hanger. My parachute was flying around 30 mph and hitting the hanger was not what I wanted to do. The only, and worst, decision that came to mind was to use my good, left toggle to do a 360-degree turn to lose altitude. This is the decision that almost killed me.
As I came out of the turn I was going about 50mph and was 10 feet off the ground. Then I hit! From what people tell me it sounded like an explosion and a rag doll being tossed across the ground. Upon impact I broke my right femur, crushed both heels and had open ankle fractures on both legs. I thought I was dead. I could hear the people yelling and running towards me to help. As I lay there in agony I wondered what my life would be like from now on due to my injuries...if I didn’t die. I was Life Flighted to Memorial Herman Hospital in Houston, Texas.
I was in the hospital for three and a half weeks and endured 11 surgeries to repair my legs. I was sent home with halos on both lower legs and a titanium rod in my right femur. Chances of ever walking again were very slim. I lay in bed for months being taken care of by my then fiancée, Danielle. She took care of me day in and day out to the best of her abilities. It still brings a tear to my eye when I think of how I would not be here today without her and how much she has sacrificed for me. We got married on September 25, 2010 with me in a wheelchair and her in my lap coming down the aisle. This was the happiest day of my life even though I knew that my future was not certain.
I was then diagnosed with osteomyelitis, which is an infection of the bone and bone marrow in my left ankle. We fought it with antibiotics for a month and I had had enough. The antibiotics killed everything in my body and made me feel like death. I had seen prosthetics that people were wearing and how active they were and knew that this was my ticket to a normal active life. So the next time I went to the doctor I told him that I wanted to amputate my leg below the knee to get rid of the infection and give me a better quality of life. He was opposed to it at first but finally performed the surgery on Oct 15, 2010.
After learning to walk on my prosthetic leg, I noticed that it was out-performing what was left of the right leg. Even though there was no infection to the right leg, I wanted it gone as well. This did not sit well with my doctor and it took months of pleading to get him to agree. Finally, he performed the surgery on Feb 11, 2011. I was finally on my way to becoming the man I once was. I knew that the life I had before me was going to be great and enjoyable because soon I would be able to walk and run and do all of the things that I used to. No longer was I going to be crippled!
Today I couldn’t be happier. It has been seven weeks since my right amputation and I am on the road to recovery and learning to walk better every day. I started riding my Harley as soon as I got my right prosthetic and love it. Although the wife will not let me skydive again, I have found a new life in wakeboarding. I had wakeboarded some through the years, but was never any good. Right now I am training to compete in this year’s Extremity Games, which is an X Games style competition held every year for people with limb loss, limb indifference and paralysis. My short term goal is to place in the novice division at the Extremity Games and my long term goal is to get on the Pro Tour in the Adaptive Standing division.
Right now I ride an old Byerly Legacy 54” and I weigh 195 lbs. It has Hyperlite Byerly rubber bindings that are difficult to get into, but I make it work. I would love to have a board custom made for me and my abilities along with bindings that are easy to get on and off.
Hopefully my success can help other people with disabilities get out and do things such as sports and activities that challenge them and show able body people that we can rip it as good, if not better, than them. I would also like to become a spokesperson for people with disabilities to give them hope and show that life is NOT over after amputation or any other life changing accident.
To find out more about Wes Webb's progress, check out his website at IveGotLegsOn.com.