Ex-NFL player's life mission dramatically changed after meeting this wounded veteran

Posted October 3

After retiring from the NFL in 2012, David Vobora launched a successful gym where he trained Olympians and other elite athletes — until a chance encounter changed everything.

Vobora's life mission dramatically transformed one day after meeting a wounded veteran at a birthday party and learning the details of his harrowing story.

"Staff Sgt. Travis Mills is one of five living veteran quadruple amputees," Vobora said in a Starbucks' Upstanders video documenting his story. "He was blown up serving our great country in Afghanistan, stepped on an IED, lost all four limbs."

Vobora recalled approaching Mills, talking to him about his story and saying that he wanted to train him. After Mills agreed, Vobora started working out with him.

"The first day we trained I asked him, 'What are you most afraid of?'" Vobora recalled, noting that Mills responded that falling was his biggest fear.

It was that response that got Vobora thinking about the fact that, as an amputee, Mills couldn't possibly be alone; many people who have lost one or more limbs likely don't have a place to go where they feel safe working out and training.

"They've sort of been sidelined," Vobora said. "Where do they go to be a part of a collective group that has this community and this ability to push each other?"

So, the former football star who founded the Performance Vault to train elite athletes stepped up and created a training program that now helps wounded warriors by giving them physical training and emotional support.

His efforts led to the formation of the Adaptive Training Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to "redefine the limits of individuals with disabilities."

Watch Vobora's story here.

U.S. Marine Veteran Brian Aft is just one of the people whom Vobora has helped. Aft recalled in the Upstanders video how he abruptly met Vobora in a parking lot, and originally feared that the then-stranger was trying to rob him.

"I was rolling back to my truck in the parking lot and all the sudden I just hear, 'Hey, hey!' I see this giant spartan dude running," Aft said.

As it turns out, Vobora got out of his car to ask Aft, an amputee who lost both legs while fighting in Afghanistan in 2011, what had happened to him. He then learned of Aft's injuries in the line of duty.

"Brian looked rough," Vobora said. "I just felt like I needed to stop him."

Aft was, in fact, in need of help. He had become addicted to heroin while trying to manage the pain from his injuries, and he had just left his second detox. Aft was so depressed and "broken," Vobora explained, that he slept each night with a pistol.

"I've had over 30 surgeries. I can't even describe how much that stuff hurt," Aft explained. "And when you tell them, 'Hey, this still hurts,' they're like, 'Well, I think you're abusing your meds.' I'm like, 'OK, well, I'm going to buy heroin."

It was a story that Vobora could relate to on some level, as he, too, faced a prescription drug issue after injuring his shoulder during an NFL game.

After meeting Vobora, Aft started attending his gym every day, with Vobora saying he watched the "life come back to his eyes."

"After going there regularly and getting stronger, getting healthier, my body pain decreased tremendously," Aft said. "My confidence levels changed. It all became a lot more feasible."

Now, Aft is engaged, has a job — and walks.

He's just one of the more than three dozen wounded veterans who Vobora has helped through his Adaptive Training Foundation after shifting his attention away from the wealthy clients and athletes he once sought after.

There's also Keven Trimble, 23, who lost both legs and a left arm while serving in Afghanistan. Vobora met him in the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport earlier this year and invited him into the program as well.

Trimble took him up on the offer and said it's been a truly rewarding experience.

"There are physical limitations. It’s the nature of being an amputee,” Trimble told Upstanders. "But it’s so empowering to know I possess the mental fortitude and the physical strength to perform a feat like that."

Through his Adaptive Training Foundation, Vobora offers free personal training to people like Aft and Trimble — an effort that started garnering attention back in 2015 when outlets like the Dallas Morning News started covering his endeavor.

Find out more about Vobora's efforts here.

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