On May 13, 2008, U.S. Army Private Steven Baskis was in the lead vehicle of a convoy snaking its way through Baghdad. They were on a special assignment to protect a general on his way back to their base. Suddenly, an explosion rocked the right side of their vehicle.
Steve described the bomb as an EFP, or explosive formed projectile. It consisted of a steel pipe packed with plastic explosive and copper slugs. The slugs ripped through the armor of Steve’s vehicle. Next to him his buddy, Staff Sgt. Victor Cota, was killed instantly. Shrapnel also struck Steve in the head, arms and legs. In a flash, he was robbed of his sight.
He was evacuated to Germany and then to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. He underwent physical therapy and occupational therapy to regain the use of his limbs. The 23-year-old then came to Hines VA Hospital’s rehabilitation center for the blind.
Jerry Schutter, the center’s director, remembers Steve as a very capable and sharp young man. Fun-loving, too. Steve and a blind double-amputee veteran, Matt, used handheld ultrasonic devices to play hide and seek on the hospital grounds. Later on in his training, Steve and Matt were able to go bar hopping in Forest Park, Schutter said. Steve, however, would not hoist a beer until his unit was home safely from Iraq.
Staff members at the VA hospital recall that Steve wanted to take control of his life and that no challenge was too big for the young man with the “Tom Cruise smile.” He welcomed physical tests. He rode a tandem bike with an instructor on the front seat, jogged on a treadmill, and ran outdoors – tethered to a friend – to rebuild his stamina.
In addition, Steve was learning how to navigate on his own, with training exercises in Forest Park. He found our town to be very walkable, and there was a lot to do in Forest Park. In fact, he liked it so much he rented an apartment on the busy corner of Desplaines and Madison. By this time, his buddies were back from Iraq, so bar hopping was even more enjoyable.
However, Steve’s main focus was physical conditioning, with a goal of qualifying for the Paralympics. He also had a goal of running the Chicago Marathon. He had run a half marathon before he was injured, but this time he wanted to go the whole distance.
Steve’s efforts garnered the attention of the marathon’s sponsor, Bank of America. His image was used in advertising for the event, with the caption, “To Prove You Can Run Even If You Can’t See.”
That’s not all Steve is trying to prove. His real motivation for training so hard is the memory of a buddy who was sitting next to him on May 13, 2008. This one’s for Victor.