When Iraqi war veteran Brian Tibbits mounts his bike for this year’s Monkey Hill Time Trial and its challenging cobblestones, the words “you may not walk again” and “liability” may flash through his mind, but only for a split second.
“Many times over the years I tell myself that I need to prove these people wrong and that my motto is never to give up,” Brian says now as he thinks back over the last ten years and his rehab from a mobility-threatening injury he suffered as a Marine in Iraq. “I understood where they were coming from, but I still want to show them what I’m made of,” he adds.
In 2004, the now 41-year-old Wilmington resident was driving a Humvee when an ambushed landmine detonated under the jeep. The attack caused spinal compression fractures which Brian translate into a “broken back in several places.” He was quickly evacuated to a hospital in Germany for a month and then flown to Bethesda Naval Hospital where he was told that he may never walk again.
His rehab continued at the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Wilmington where doctors and therapists continued to be cautionary when discussing his prognosis. But Brian says he paid more attention to his inner voice than those speaking around him. They “did light a torch under my butt, and I decided then I had to prove those people wrong.”
Already progressing, Brian stepped up his efforts, set goals and in two years was running again. His professional ambition turned back to the Wilmington Police Department. Shortly before he had been reactivated to active duty status, Brian was accepted into and began training to become a police officer.
“I could see that light duty would probably be the only appropriate role for me,” he says. Later he spoke to a private security firm but kept hearing the word ‘liability’ rather than ‘opportunity.’ Brian remembers that as being “devastating.”
“I think everyone has limitations, but people are capable of so much more. I have a defiant, fighting spirit and that’s what I draw on.”
Brian started entering races. And after a friend gave him a bike, he entered triathlons and did rather well. Even a separated shoulder from flipping over his bike’s handlebars didn’t keep him from trying again last year for the police force.
He gravitated more and more towards his bike (he now owns at least three) mostly because cycling is easier on the body than running. And after finishing in a race in Bethany last year set his sights on the Monkey Hill Time Trial.
“Maintaining stability is the key factor on Monkey Hill,” he says after training on the Brandywine Park hill, “and after all my rehab, I’m pretty good at that. Besides, the cobblestones are only a short portion.”
Since 2013, Brian has served as a constable with Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, where he’s motivated by assignments including transporting blood of a rare type from a donor in South America to maintaining a healing, peaceful environment for children and their parents facing serious illnesses.
“After my injuries, I’m never going to be 100 percent; I have good days and bad, but that doesn’t slow me down. And I’m sure I’ll be up for Monkey Hill no matter how I feel physically.”
The opening event of the Wilmington Grand Prix, the Monkey Hill Time Trial starts at 5pm on Friday, May 18 adjacent to N. Van Buren and 18th Street.