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Major David Borden was the special guest speaker for a football clinic at his alma mater. Jason Plotkin, York Daily Record

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The first thing you noticed was his prosthetic right leg.

Maj. David Borden wore shorts to make sure of it. The 6-foot-6 U.S. Marine stood straight and tall in the Delone Catholic High gym as he addressed a group of young football players.

It was Borden's first trip to his alma mater in 18 years, since he caught enough passes and showed enough promise to earn a college scholarship and begin carving out a most unexpected life's mission.

He returned to the town he grew up in recently to share his message and possibly inspire those attending the annual one-day football clinic.

Some watching in the gym bleachers weren't even born when Borden enlisted in the Marines after graduating from Kutztown University and then briefly training for a management job.

They couldn't know the details of his three tours of duty in the Middle East and what truly brought him back here.

"Gentlemen, I'm going to tell you a story here," he said after a brief introduction. "I'm not going to tell a story to scare you ..."

• • •

Borden was a rifle platoon commander in charge of 40 young Marines a decade ago in Ramadi, Iraq.

He was on combat patrol Jan. 19, 2008 when a suicide bomber detonated himself only a few yards away.

When the blast subsided, Borden tried to return fire. But he couldn't get up. He couldn't move at all. One of his fellow Marines was dead nearby. Three others were wounded.

Borden was barely alive.

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Both of his arms were broken, his left one nearly missing. His right foot was blown off. One of his lungs collapsed. His abdomen was shredded with shrapnel and nearly 200 ball bearings were embedded in his body.

Soon after, his parents were summoned to fly across the globe, for fear he might not make it home.

The last thing he remembers was looking into the eyes of a doctor and asking him to take away the pain.

• • •

Borden shifted his weight from side to side on his prosthetic leg as he prepared to talk during Pat Flaherty's Mason Dixon Linemen Clinic at Delone.

Flaherty, the longtime NFL assistant coach, met him by chance soon after his injury. Borden was beginning a desperate, swaying recovery at Walter Reed National Medical Center outside Washington, D.C. Flaherty, then with the New York Giants, was part of a team visit following its Super Bowl XLII victory. 

Flaherty, also a Delone alum, was introduced to Borden by chance that day. Borden was propped up in a wheelchair, struggling to free himself from a medically-induced coma, and said he doesn't remember the meeting. 

The coach, though, said he couldn't forget that scene or the man. He stayed in touch by phone and email over the following decade and tried to get Borden to speak at his clinic the previous two years.

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The former Nittany Lion star and Baltimore Raven spent a recent day teaching kids at a football clinic in McSherrystown. Wochit

This time finally worked.

Borden told his story to those players, parents and coaches in less than 15 minutes. No one made a sound as he spoke.

"Just like in sports or in the military, at some point, you're going to have to hang that uniform up," he said. "Because of my injuries it was just assumed that my time had come ... that (my) service to my country was coming to an end.  

"Let me tell you what, I wasn't ready to stop wearing that uniform. There's one thing I was going to do, I was going to put that uniform back on and I was going to get on a plane and go to another country and continue doing what I loved best ..."

• • •

Surviving the risky plane ride back to the States was only Borden's first significant step in a three-year recovery.

His body was still trying to fight life-threatening infection and trauma shock. He was a tangle of tubes and was dropping weight quickly, some 60 pounds in all.

Borden said he was rescued from cardiac failure a few times.

It would take him six months to learn how to sit up on his own, to feed himself again, to bathe himself.

Eventually, his right leg had to be amputated just above the knee.

He persevered through nearly 50 surgeries and 2 1/2 years of bed rest and recovery — always maintaining that he would, indeed, return to active duty.

To do that, he trained for months wearing a weighted vest and combat boots, working out two and three times a day on his prosthetic leg.

All of it led to this: Three years to the day of his catastrophic injury, he deployed to Afghanistan as the leader of 250 Marines.

"Coming off the plane and your boots are on deck … I finally could take a deep breath and say, 'I finally moved on, I did what I wanted to do.' But that instantly has to go away because I had a job."

Borden claims he was unchanged in most ways by the time he headed back to fight and protect. He describes his prosthesis as no more than a nuisance during day-long patrols in 120-degree heat. He had to be careful of infection, chafing and broken mechanical parts.

"You're stuck in the middle of a combat zone, you figure a way to adjust.

"It wasn't about me. People didn't care (that I was an amputee)," he said. "All they saw was that I had my uniform on, that I was the guy in charge."

His return to the front lines brought him "instant credibility" because "no one expects you to stay in," Borden said. "It's made me a stronger leader, more of a critical thinker."

In 2014, he returned to Afghanistan for a third tour of duty as the aide to the commanding general. He said he did not suffer significant injuries during either of his last two tours.

He is now stationed in Pittsburgh in a training, teaching and community relations position with the Marines.

If asked to deploy again, he would go without pause.

"The greatest honor I've had is leading Marines, and I don't care if it's on one or two legs. If I was missing two legs I would still do it."

 •  •  •

Borden has worn his prosthetic leg for 10 of his 12 years as a Marine.

He told those in the Delone gym that his message is not about proving how tough he is.

He repeatedly expressed in private his concern over becoming the focus of attention. He said he wants nothing of being lauded as a hero. He declined to take part in a video about his speech and his story.

"No matter if it's through high school, sports or life, you're going to face adversity," he told the crowd.

"Are you going to let an injury or getting knocked down by someone bigger, stronger and faster (define you)? Or are you going to pick yourself up and keep fighting and beat that person?

"Why quit, why give up? It gets you nowhere."

Borden has earned a Purple Heart. He was awarded the NCAA Inspiration Award four years ago for his perseverance and valor as a former college athlete.

He's climbed mountains like Mount McKinley in Alaska and Aconcagua in Argentina to help raise money for injured veterans.

He is 36. He was married just a month ago.

As he finished speaking at Delone, he received a standing ovation in the gym.

Just before that, he told everyone this:

"Everything learned in sports … is going to help you in life, more than you know. To understand what it is to be dedicated to something, what it means to be a teammate, long hours. ... Learn from it. Have humility.

"Follow your dreams," he said before pausing. "What are you doing now to get there?"

 

In the national news

Maj. David Borden and his father were briefly the subject of a national debate in 2009.

Borden Sr., of Hanover, reportedly wrote an email criticizing former President Barack Obama for an "insensitive" visit with wounded soldiers and Marines — including his son — at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

The controversy and details of the email were mostly debunked on Web sites such as FactCheck.org and Snopes.com.

At the time, Borden Sr. confirmed he wrote an email about Obama's visit, but said it was not intended to be spread across the internet. He declined to say whether the email being forwarded was the same as the one he wrote.

The email that was forwarded said Obama had arrived at the hospital 3 1/2 hours late and never asked the wounded veterans their names or how they were injured.

 

 

                                                                                                     

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