RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – This weekend, tens of thousands of NASCAR fans will file into Richmond International Raceway to take in the Heath Calhoun 400.
You're probably wondering who that is. He's a double amputee veteran from the U.S. Army and an accomplished para-athlete. His story has led NASCAR and Crown Royal to name this week's Sprint Cup race in his honor.
RYAN: As we described, you're a double amputee. Somebody is probably wondering how that's possible because you're standing here talking to me. You've got two prosthetic legs. Tell us a little bit what led you to this today.
HEALTH: I was in Iraq and a rocket propelled grenade came in and amputated both of my legs above my knees.
RYAN: How long did it take to get to the point where you could walk again on these prosthetic limbs?
HEALTH: I tried really hard for about two and a half years, struggling mostly, but after two and a half years, I found the right combination of the device that allowed me to get up, and I've been completely out of a wheelchair for almost 4 years now.
RYAN: That's incredible. You're a Virginia native, grew up in the southwest. I assume you're a big NASCAR fan.
RYAN: What does it mean to go to this track with your name in lights?
HEALTH: It's huge for me. To be associated with Crown Royal, I can't say enough thanks for them for just having the foresight to have this contest. I'm thrilled and honored.
RYAN: Today you were with Governor Bob McDonnell at an event to help veterans in Virginia. I know you're very passionate about helping veterans that come back from war. Are there things we can do and what type of things should we be doing to help people like yourself that come back from the war zone?
HEALTH: It's funny you mentioned that. I was just talking about that earlier today. There are still veterans coming back that are disabled every day from Iraq and Afghanistan, and we've been over there for a while, and I think sometimes that even I forget that the guys are still coming back, you know, after people have given and given and given. You certainly still can give. There are a lot of nonprofit organizations out there that are out helping. The VA has done a great job here recently of stepping in and helping, even with the paraolympic movement that we were talking about. So yeah, Americans can just make sure that they don't forget guys are still coming home every day.
RYAN: We mentioned that you're a para-athlete. Your special is skiing. Explain to me how somebody in your condition is able to go fast down a mountain on skis.
HEATH: I do something called sit skiing. We get on one ski with two arm skis. We get upwards of about 60 miles an hour in a downhill race. It's a lot of fun, takes a lot of work, but it's a lot of fun.
RYAN: Sounds impressive. I'm going to imagine that the guy who the race is named after is going to get pretty good seats up at the track Saturday night. Tell me a little bit about what the race day experience is going to be like for you.
HEALTH: Crown Royal has me set up as the Grand Marshall for the race. I get to say the most famous words in motor sports, "Gentlemen start your engines." I get to present the trophy to the winner. They've got some other things up their sleeve they haven't quite told me about.
RYAN: Exciting. The race this Saturday night at RIR. Heath, thank you for sharing your story. Good luck with everything and have fun on Saturday night.
HEALTH: Thank you so much.