Surviving life’s hardships

  • Published
  • By Airman Jarrett Smith
  • 374th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

It was a perfect Saturday morning when Joe and his group of friends decided to unwind from a stressful week of school football practice by taking a relaxing boat ride on the Mississippi River.

Nobody was prepared for what happened next.

Joe flew backwards and hit his head when the boat suddenly struck the river bottom, causing him to lose consciousness. He finally woke to his friends weeping over him, the pain overwhelming his senses, “Joe, can you feel your leg? Can you move it at all?” they cried.

“My life changed forever that day,” said Joe Delagrave, a Paralympic medalist and keynote resiliency speaker. “What happens when the identities we take for granted are ripped away from us? What do we do next?”

Delagrave spoke to Team Yokota members at the base theater about his story of overcoming adversity to continue his life after a traumatic injury, as a kick-off event to Yokota’s Year of Professional Development on Feb. 7, 2023.

Delagrave initially aspired for a career in football, until the sudden injury changed his plans. He admitted to the crowd that hope for starting over after devastation can be elusive, and sometimes extra help is necessary to stop spiraling thoughts and get you grounded in reality.

“I remember the doctors telling me that I only had a three percent chance to walk again,” he said. “I was in the hospital for three months, and each day I would see the wheelchair next to me and think, ‘I don’t want to live in a wheelchair, no way.’”

Delagrave struggled to adjust to his new life, but found that he couldn’t do it alone. He needed a support system and a new dream to chase. With the support of friends and loved ones, he started playing wheelchair rugby as a new outlet and continued for 13 years–but it wasn’t easy.

“The coach cut me from the team in 2016,” he said, admitting that he struggled to accept the loss of such a fundamental part of his life journey. “The biggest choice I had to make was looking in the mirror and admitting, ‘I want to continue with life, I want to figure this out.’ I was able to go on because I listened to the people supporting me, and not the voice inside my head saying, ‘I don’t know if this is worth it.’”

He realized that there was nobody to blame, and it wasn’t anyone’s fault. He had to have faith in the support, efforts, and love others provided, to help him recover once more.

Delagrave took his story on the road to spread his message of resilience to others. He wanted to show them that some days will be tougher than others, but no matter what challenges we may face, anyone can bounce back.

“We’re thankful to have Mr. Delagrave here to show strength and vulnerability to our community,” said Gloria Bryant, 374th Airlift Wing Community Integrated Prevention executive director. “People need to know that we may struggle, but we can recover and even thrive. Learning from adversity can help us to be more resilient in the future.”

Team Yokota supports its community, so if you’re experiencing a difficult time in your life, there is support available to help. Contact the Integrated Prevention team or the Yokota Military & Family Readiness Center at DSN: 315-225-8725, or email