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Wish Happy Birthday To Matt Bradford, An Inspirational UK Fan In So Many Ways

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Matt Bradford earned his degree from Kentucky in May. Matt Bradford earned his degree from Kentucky in May.
Matt Bradford competed in the Escape from Alcatraz last weekend before flying back to Kentucky to speak at a high school football bowl dinner the next night. Matt Bradford competed in the Escape from Alcatraz last weekend before flying back to Kentucky to speak at a high school football bowl dinner the next night.

By LARRY VAUGHT

Today is a special day for my friend, Matt Bradford. He’s 31 years old today and I hope Kentucky fans everywhere will take a few minutes to have a happy thought for this special UK fan on his birthday.

I don’t know anyone else quite like Matt Bradford — and it is not because about 10 years ago while serving in Iraq with the Marines he lost both legs and his eyesight when a roadside bomb exploded underneath him.

No, what makes him special is his spirit/attitude.

“My vision for my life is to live life to fullest and never use my injuries as an excuse,” said Bradford. “I have no regrets. I would do it all again.”

Believe him.

Bradford played basketball, football and tennis in high school but joined the Marines in 2004 because of the 9/11 attacks. After he was injured, he eventually got back to the point where he re-enlisted in the Marines — the first blind double-amputee ever to do that.

He had to learn to eat with his left hand because his right hand was also damaged in the blast that left shrapnel in his brain and body.

“I was more devastated losing my legs than my vision. You just never imagine something like that can happen to you,” Bradford said. “I had a lot of wonderful people around me helping me get through. I had guilt, depression. But I finally figured out there could be life outside the hospital doors.

“I realized I could stay in the Marines and motivate other wounded warriors. I went to a blind school in Chicago to learn everything from daily living to how to send an email to using a phone that talks to me.

“Even when I open my eyes and see darkness, it is motivation to go out and live my life to the fullest. I didn’t join the Marines for money. I joined to serve my country. I’ll never regret that.”

He has more than lived life to the fullest also. In addition to re-enlisting to help other wounded warriors, he’s been skydiving, finished marathons and half-marathons, and graduated from Kentucky with a double major in May.

He also got married April 7, 2012 — exactly two years after he re-enlisted in the Marines. He has a child and two step-children.

He met his wife, Amanda, when he was in North Carolina recovering from his injuries. They have now moved back to Kentucky after he got out of the Marines in 2012 in part because she knew he wanted to go to school at UK. He also realized he could impact others without being in the Marines, especially since he could never be deployed again.

Bradford has been a life-long Kentucky fan and said he reacted like a child his first day on the UK campus as a student when he met UK basketball players Willie Cauley-Stein and Andrew Harrison.

“I was like a little groupie that was 10 years old,” Bradford said. “But it was a blessing to attend UK. When I walked across the stage (at graduation), it did not hit me at first. But when they sang my ‘Old Kentucky Home’ it really got to me.”

Bradford has the same inspirational impact on others not only when he shares his story, but when they see him competing in various events.

Last weekend he flew to San Francisco on Friday to compete in the Escape from Alcatraz Saturday. The kayak he was in overturned in the Pacific Ocean on the 1.5-mile trip to the former prison. Later he had to take part in a 7-mile run.

He took an all-night flight back to Kentucky so he could be in Stanford Sunday night to be the guest speaker at the PBK Bank/WPBK Death Valley Bowl dinner despite having only about two hours of sleep Sunday.

Coaches John Hodges of Bourbon County and Robbie Lucas of Somerset both admitted how emotional Bradford’s story was. Players from all four teams said the same.

Lincoln County coach Travis Leffew, a former All-American offensive lineman at Louisville, found out he had recently competed in the same Spartan race at Ft. Knox that Bradford also did.

“I love adrenaline. I am motivated to do crazy things. Since 2009 I have hand cycled six marathons, five half-marathons. I have done five Spartan events since last August,” he said. “Last year I did one at Fenway Park (in Boston). Two months ago I did one at Lambeau Field (in Green Bay). Four weeks ago I was in Ft. Knox and it was over 100 degrees. I want to show my kids never to settle for the bare minimum.

“The Spartan races with the obstacles brings me back to my military training. I wear a helmet just like when I was deployed. I feel like I am back in the fight with my brothers. A lot of times the ones helping me (in the events) are serving in the military right now. I love to stay in shape, too. I don’t want to let my gut grow out too much and I shave every day.”

Yes, he has a terrific sense of humor and pokes fun at himself and others. He admits he might be a “smart aleck” at times because of the way he jokes around and even laughs about having an Instagram account even though he's blind.

But it’s no laughing matter when it comes to his drive to inspire others to never give up no matter what. He’ll also always be proud of being a Marine despite the horrific injuries he suffered.

“My kids are growing up in a free country because of what I did and my brothers and sisters did,” Bradford said. “No way you can regret that.”

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