Running to Trauma

by Eddie Dzialo


When I first appeared at the Officer Selection Office in Durham, NH, I told them that I wanted to be a Marine officer and that I would do whatever they needed me to do. Had it been an option, I would have left that day. 

I went down to the Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia, but three weeks before graduation I broke the second metatarsal in my right foot. The intensity of the physical fitness requirements literally broke me.

In the mornings, before the Sergeant Instructors tore through the barracks, I got up and wrapped my foot with duct tape. The top of my foot had swollen so badly that I wouldn’t have been able to get it in my boot without taping it down. My rack mate, the nephew of a legendary NFL coach, said that my foot looked like it had swallowed a purple grapefruit. One of the Corpsmen—the Navy’s version of an EMT—caught me doing my morning duct tape routine. When he told me that I would have to go see a doctor and be dropped due to injury, I told him that I must have pulled something and nothing was broken. To prove this, I hopped up and down on one foot—the shattered one. Either he was foolish enough to believe me, or he saw how badly I wanted to stay.

During the timed runs, the endurance courses, the conditioning hikes and fitness tests, I ran on the outside of my foot—until that bone broke too. Before graduation, I ran three miles in 19:02 with a foot that looked like an infected circle. When I got home, I went to get X-rays. After getting the results, the doctor refused to let me get off the examination table; he wanted to get me into surgery. Even then, I pleaded for a cast because getting surgery would have prevented me from being sworn in as a Marine officer when I graduated college the following spring.

Three years later, I was in Iraq.

Both of my parents were Marines, as were two of my uncles, my aunt, and my cousin. Despite my background, no one in my family told me to become a Marine. Before I left, my father tried to talk me out of it. It’s not that he wasn’t proud of me or that he wasn’t being supportive, but he told me that if I was going to risk my life doing something, then the decision to do so had to come from me alone.

I am not the same person I used to be. Before I left for the Marines, I had friends; I had been the president of a fraternity; when I smiled, I meant it. I am guilty of making choices that impact not only me but everyone in my life. Relationships of all varieties become strained, but unlike many survivors of trauma, I was an eager participant. I volunteered for something, and I accept the consequences of that decision, but the people around me, the people who see me struggle, did not.

After my second deployment, life morphed into a dull fog. The aftermath was the loss of emotions, the feelings of isolation and confusion that evolve into anxiety. And I became this way because I wanted it. A draft notice never appeared in the mail, an economic hardship hadn’t made me consider the military as a means for a better life. I didn’t stumble into my current state, I ran into it, willingly. I wanted to become a Marine and I ended up exactly where I had set out to go.