When Clint Mabry walked across the stage to receive his Baylor diploma in May 2001, he was celebrating more than one accomplishment: just six weeks earlier, his right leg had been amputated below the knee, and he had been fitted with a prosthetic.
"I had set that goal of walking across the stage," Mabry says. "I felt very blessed and thankful that I had that opportunity."
Since then, Mabry has checked off numerous other tasks on his to-do list including skydiving, completing triathlons, traveling internationally and walking down the aisle in 2004 with his bride, Sarah Turnbaugh, BA '04. But, initially, he didn't know where he was headed.
His amputation came as a result of a car accident that occurred during his senior year in 2000 when he and three other Baylor students, including Ashley Fuhrmann, were returning from spring break. One of Fuhrmann's tires blew out, causing the car to flip several times and land in a ditch. She was killed. The two other students were injured and Mabry's ankles were crushed.
Trading classes for recovery at his home in San Antonio, Mabry underwent numerous surgeries. After a year of physical therapy, his left leg had healed, but he still was experiencing infections and other problems with his right leg. Frustrated with the complications and facing a longterm struggle with no promise of complete healing, he decided to consider other options.
Through family friends, he and his family met with two amputees who were living active lives. After talking with them, Mabry decided that he would have the surgery to remove his damaged leg. "It's pretty much at that point that I realized I wanted to go on to counsel other people," he says.
Mabry sees the accident and subsequent amputation as a turning point in his life. "I think the Lord used it to really slow me down. I've always been the type that's just go, go, go," he says. His relationships with God and family became the most important things, he says. "I was lying in the hospital bed for so long. I couldn't have cared less about my cell phone, my Palm Pilot, my computer," he says.
His career goals also changed drastically. As a communications major and film cameraman for the Baylor football team, he had considered a career in sports broadcasting or sales. But after graduation, his desire to help other amputees became so strong that he left a job in Dallas to pursue a master's degree in rehabilitation counseling. In 2005, he graduated from San Diego State University, one of the top seven schools in the nation for this program.
Since 2004, Mabry has been a program manager and spokesperson for Challenged Athletes Foundation, a nonprofit organization that helps physically disabled people pursue competitive athletics. CAF provides funding and support for the disabled to attend sports events, such as its annual triathlon, and purchases special-needs athletic equipment.
Mabry travels widely to promote CAF and constantly is communicating with those who contact the foundation. Although now only working part time while pursuing other career paths, he still will be a contact person for disabled athletes. "I'm trying to serve as an advocate and a motivator," he says.
Mabry says his faith, family and friends have helped him "embrace the challenge" of being an amputee, and that living with an obvious disability has made him appear more accessible to those struggling with spiritual or emotional problems. "People go through a lot worse than me but you can't see it on the outside," he says. "I'm fortunate that mine's on the outside and people notice. It's a great conversation piece and a great way to get people to open up to me where I can witness to them and be a positive influence in their lives."
His amputation also has given him an advantage in an unlikely industry -- Hollywood. In 2004, Mabry's cousin, Josh Henderson, was cast in Steven Bochco's "Over There," a TV series based on the Iraq war that aired for 13 episodes on the FX Network from July to October 2005. Henderson landed the role of Pfc. Bo Rider, an American soldier who loses his leg in a land mine explosion, and suggested Mabry play his body double.
Mabry also served as an amputee consultant on set, which involved describing how a person would move when learning to use a prosthetic, among other things, so that the show would be as accurate as possible.
During the five months of filming, Bochco's wife, Dayna, inquired about Mabry's involvement with CAF. A week later, the Bochcos sent a generous check to the organization and asked for more information. Last July, the couple hosted a CAF fundraiser that included a private screening of the first episode of "Over There" for 200 of their friends and raised more than $20,000.
Mabry and his wife have recently purchased a condo in Los Angeles so that he can be closer to auditions and opportunities there, while still maintaining his home and part-time job with CAF in San Diego. Although being an amputee has given him a niche in Hollywood, he hopes that in time he'll be able to get different roles. "[As an amputee] you use your leg because it makes you stand out more, but eventually you move from that and start getting more serious," he says.
Although he may be shifting careers again, Mabry still is committed to helping those with physical disabilities. "That's why I've gone the media route," he says. "I can show more people what's possible, and ultimately, I can just be a person with a disability doing what he loves doing and pursuing his dream."
To read more about Clint Mabry
and Challenged Athletes Foundation, visit www.1footloose.com
-- Mabry's personal Web site, which is dedicated to Ashley Fuhrmann -- and www.challengedathletes.org