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Training, attitude help DU alum recover from war wound

Alumnus P.J. Glavey learns how to use his artificial legs. Glavey was injured fighting in Afghanistan.

It’s one of life’s ironies: Those who are able to tell the most riveting stories of personal experience are often also the most reluctant to tell them.

For that reason, alum Patrick “P.J.” Glavey (BS finance ’07) talks about losing his legs in a dispassionate, just-the-facts manner.

The 26-year-old could be talking about what he had for breakfast rather than his experience in Afghanistan.

“The experience itself wasn’t super-scary,” he says simply.

No, Glavey reserves his enthusiasm for talking about DU, his fiancée, and his plans for the future, even as he spends his days at a San Diego hospital learning a task almost unthinkably difficult for anyone who has never lost a limb or two.

Glavey, originally from Marietta, Ga., was taken with the University of Denver when he visited the campus. He considered studying creative writing but stuck with finance as a major. He also met his fiancée, Laura Borneman (BA ’08), at DU.

Joining the United States Marine Corps is an unusual step for a finance major, but Glavey says he enrolled in an officer program in Quantico, Va., for what he calls the “picture-perfect Marine experience — crawling through mud, running through mud.

“The opportunity to take such an incredible leadership role at such a young age, to have 60 to 70 guys under your command, was what prompted me,” he says. “It’s not something you’re going to get anywhere else.”

Upon being transferred to Camp Pendleton in California, Lieutenant Glavey was given a rifle platoon with the Fox Company, 1st Marines. A year of training consisted of drills for mountain and desert warfare.

Finally, he was sent to Afghanistan in late 2010. Glavey described it as “an infantryman’s dream.”

“I was excited to do my job, for us to be Marines and to help establish a government for citizens who had been terrorized by the Taliban and who wanted to live outside Sharia law,” Glavey says. “There’s a clear set of goals: there is an enemy, there is a populace that needs your help.”

Part of that help involved investigating and disposing of possible improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. That’s what Glavey and his fellow Marines were doing Oct. 28, 2010, in the Helmand Province. A Marine called in a suspicious item in a civilian-populated area. As Glavey and an explosives team arrived, he wasn’t thinking about what he and all the other Marines knew: the risk of injury was great.

“You read about it, you know the numbers,” Glavey says. “For Marines in that province, it’s beyond a slight occurrence.

Glavey got out of the vehicle, walked toward the area and it happened. The explosion took both his legs, but left him conscious.

“You look down and you realize you don’t have any legs, and you’re in a hole,” Glavey says calmly.

Glavey was transported from the area and spent the next several weeks at medical facilities before returning to San Diego.

Now, Glavey is undergoing the extremely involved process of learning to function with artificial legs.

“It’s a different lifestyle for sure,” Glavey says. “Being a young guy, having an open future, now having these limitations … I’m adapting to it.”

Glavey’s first venture outside the hospital using his artificial legs was to church then to the grocery store. He acknowledges that people stared at him.

“I’m still pretty clumsy, so I guess I kind of brought it on myself,” he says, chuckling. “When you can’t stand anymore, things definitely change … But there’s people out there who have it much worse.”

The adjustment also goes for Borneman. She has settled with Glavey in San Diego, and is working for a high-end designer. She says the weeks following Glavey’s injury were difficult, mostly because of the uncertainty and not being able to see him.

“Once I was there [Bethesda Medical in Maryland] it was a huge relief to see that he was stable,” she says. “It was extremely sad. I was going through a lot of anxiety. Family and friends helped me out a lot.”

Borneman says she and Glavey are looking forward to a spring 2013 wedding in Santa Barbara, Calif.

“Our goal is to both walk down the aisle together,” she says.

Glavey also aims to return to DU and earn a graduate degree in business.

“I’m learning to walk again, and I’m learning to start a new life,” he says. “I have to focus on the things that can be done and not the negative things that can’t be controlled.”

Asked if he regrets any of the decisions he made the past few years, Glavey answers simply and decisively: “No.”

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