Terry has lived a life of service since graduating from high school in his hometown along the northwestern part of Oak Harbor, Washington. He joined the Navy Reserve through the Sea Air Mariner program and flew aboard the C-9-31 as an aircrewman. Unable to advance he got out of the Navy after four years and enlisted in the Army as a Combat Engineer. “I really had no idea what this entailed and I was in for a rude awakening,” he laughed. After his second contract and second branch, he separated and was working as a phlebotomist and part-time EMT-B when the World Trade Center was hit on 9/11. For a third time, Terry enlisted but in the Air Force and he became a recipient of Levitow Award — given to one airman per class who exhibits the most outstanding leadership and scholastic qualities — at the Airman Leadership School.
While begging his superiors to allow him to switch from dental or medic, the Army relented and Terry was able to deploy to Iraq between on three 6-month rotations between 2008-2010 with a forward surgical team. “Our job was a trauma unit that handled anything life threatening,” Terry said. “If they wouldn’t make it to Camp Delta, Baghdad, they would come here. My main job was working in the ICU receiving patients after surgery and packing them up and sending them out. My secondary role was as mass casualty medic.”
“On September 18, 2013, I was diagnosed with ALS and was forced to retire from both the reserves and the VA,” Terry recalled. “I was super active in the outdoors before my diagnosis and after I lost function in my right hand, my arm, and some of my breathing, I was told I had to give up scuba diving and that it wasn’t safe to ride my HD motorcycle or mountain bike anymore. That’s when I really started looking at surfing.”
One More Wave gave Terry the opportunity to get on a board and learn to achieve surf therapy. “Surfing to me represents so much; challenge, freedom, connection to the ocean, and camaraderie. Surfing is one of the hardest things I’ve tried to do and I thrive on challenges. Well fun outdoor challenges I guess.” He continued, “When I’m in the ocean and in contact with my board I feel free to be me, the me before ALS. I feel free to make mistakes, to fall, without judgement, and to get back on and go again. After having to give up scuba diving I realized how connected I had become to the water. Some Army buddies and I dove on average twice a week for a year in the puget sound. I really missed it. Getting out into the surf with my board felt almost like a homecoming, but better.”
The camaraderie and sense of belonging has helped Terry connect with other veterans, surfers, and athletes through a shared love of sport. “I was becoming part of what is almost an elite community. Athletes who have discovered how healing the ocean can be and how challenging and fun too. Each wave can be so familiar and at the same time so different. Man I love EVERYTHING about surfing! Surfing has given me a reason to keep going. Sure there are other reasons like my kids and such. But the surfing has a pull and excitement like nothing else.”
“One of the ways I always dealt with things is through meditation and zen music, so as a deal towards that, for the days I’m not surfing I’ll put the board up and I can stare at the Japanese wave and some Japanese words underneath,” Terry shared paying tribute to his relationship with the culture of his wife Cassandra’s mother’s Japanese heritage. “I have a message to my wife and kids on there, the 8/4/8 3rd Infantry patch, a custom tailblock that helps protect the board, a rising sun flag, and made it out of see-through plastic.”
Terry enjoys driving his children — Shelby who’s five and in kindergarten and Wyatt who’s nine in the fifth grade — to and from school, in addition to devoting his time volunteering at their after school activities. His oldest son Wylie, 22, plans to join the Navy following in his father’s footsteps as a public servant.
For the last couple of years he has been involved with Montana Ranch that enables 70% disabled Purple Heart Recipients to enjoy hunting the beautiful landscapes amongst other veterans. “One More Wave is a lot of fun, a lot of us have Group Me chats over text, and we all stay in contact, it’s special.” Terry continues his battle with ALS and hopes to continue getting into the water to experience the positives surf therapy brings to his life.
Author: matt fratus