USMC Sgt. Zach Stinson developed a passion for fitness and exercise at a young age. Joining the military seemed like a natural progression for him to maintain his high level of activity while serving his country. He enlisted when he was still in high school and became a Marine in 2007.
The next two years Zach spent serving with security forces in Washington state. While there, he and his then-girlfriend, Tesa, were married. A month after their wedding, Zach transferred to Camp Lejeune, NC, and three months after that, he deployed to Afghanistan. There, he volunteered for Advance Echelon (ADVON) and served as the Squad Leader.
Just three months later, on November 9, 2010, Zach and his team were on foot patrol when Zach stepped on an IED, resulting in the loss of both of his legs above the knee and several of his fingers. After being medevaced off the scene, Zach woke up six days later at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he underwent 25 surgeries before beginning his long rehabilitation process.
Tesa immediately moved to be with Zach through recovery. Feeling uncertain as to what the future would hold, Tesa remembers The Fund stepping in to support her almost immediately. “They were a blessing out of nowhere,” she said. Their case manager, Dawn, was a constant source of support as they navigated different medical procedures, and she consistently provided gift cards and gas cards that made it possible for Zach’s parents to travel to be with them. “I like to call Dawn our angel,” Zach said, “She and The Fund have been with us in every part of my recovery.”
While still in the hospital, Zach picked up hunting as a form of therapy, finding it to be beneficial not just for his physical recovery but also for his mental and emotional healing. “Coming home from the hospital was a difficult transition for me,” Zach remembers. Tesa said, “He needed to learn what he was capable of again.” Hunting provided that outlet for him. Through it, he learned that he could push himself more and accomplish things he had previously thought were not possible.
As Zach continued to progress, sports and athletics also played a large role in his rehabilitation. In 2012, just two years after his injury, Zach competed in the Marine Corps Marathon, finishing in the top 10. He ran the Marathon again in 2016 and once again, was one of the first runners to cross the finish line. In both marathons, Zach had minimal to no training on race day. He realized then that if he dedicated more time to training, with his natural ability, he could excel.
Zach set his sights on competing in an Ironman. Having no swimming experience since his injury, he knew it would be a challenge. “I had to teach myself how to swim again,” he remembers, “And then I had to teach myself how to swim fast.” The Fund was with him to help him meet his athletic goals. They covered the cost of his entrance fees and provided a racing wheelchair and racing tires for his handcycle. Zach went on to complete the Ironman with an excellent time. He is the only handcycling athlete to have ever completed that course.
Today, Zach continues to compete–now focusing on sprint races. Dawn recently joined his family to cheer him on when he won the 2021 Paratriathlon Nationals. “We just refer to him as the National Champion now,” Dawn laughs. Although he has competed and excelled in a number of races, Zach says his biggest accomplishment is his family. Tesa has been his biggest cheerleader from the start, and their two daughters, Olivia and Rylee, travel to most races to cheer on their father. Olivia attended The Fund’s summer camp. “She hasn’t been happy with a camp since,” Zach said, “It’s the gold standard.”
For The Fund, it has been a gift to cheer Zach and his family on over the years.