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IRVING -- As Nick Bradley lay in a military hospital bed in Afghanistan four years ago, he had plenty of time to think.
Family and his two-year-old daughter were foremost in the Air Force staff sergeant's mind as he nursed wounds from a roadside bombing that left him with missing fingers and broken, shattered bones.
So was golf.
"I started thinking about golf, how long it would take me to get out of the hospital, how long it would take me to walk, how long it would take me to play golf," said Bradley, an Air Force staff sergeant at the time of the attack. "I love a challenge."
Bradley quickly learned how large a challenge he faced.
Doctors told him the explosion broke every bone in his right arm, broke his hip, twisted and fractured his knee, crushed his foot, broke his hands and caused the loss of a couple of fingers.
They said it would take countless surgeries to repair what was broken, and it likely would take at least a year before he could walk again.
But he walked within two months and so far has gone through 16 surgeries that included facial reconstruction and putting screws in his face, right arm, right hand, hip and knee.
In the hospital, he waited until doctors weren't looking -- and then he would stand up and practice on a makeshift putting green.
"I needed to do it," Bradley, now a 29-year-old single father who lives in Haslet, said with a grin and a shrug. "It gave me something to look forward to every day."
As the months went by, Bradley moved his game -- and his recovery -- out to the golf course.
Next week, he will be one of 22 wounded servicemen playing in the Warrior Open golf tournament in Irving hosted by former President George W. Bush.
Bradley, who has been practicing for the big event, said he can't wait to play the course with fellow servicemen and the former president.
"When you put golf, a former president and a bunch of wounded veterans together, you're going to have a great time," he told the Star-Telegram during a recent round of golf at the Las Colinas Country Club in Irving.
Aug. 3, 2008
In early 2008, Bradley deployed to Camp Eggers in Kabul, Afghanistan, as part of the 96th Security Forces Squadron, a personal security detail for officers.
On Sunday, Aug. 3, he was going to have his first day off in about two months.
Then he learned he was needed for a Protective Services Mission, so he and Texas Army National Guard Sgt. Jaime "Gonzo" Gonzalez of Austin got in a Toyota Land Cruiser and became the last vehicle in the convoy.
About 20 minutes into the mission, once the vehicles turned on to a dirt road, Bradley heard someone say on the radio that the convoy needed to drive faster because the area was a "perfect place" for an improvised explosive device.
As Bradley's Land Cruiser reached a bridge, two Taliban in a nearby village remotely detonated a 20-pound anti-tank mine IED under the vehicle.
He woke up in a ditch minutes later, unable to see, unable to move.
"I didn't know what was going on or if I was going to make it out of there," he said softly.
He later was told that Gonzalez, the passenger in the car Bradley was driving, died.
And while the convoy followed protocol, evacuating the person they were protecting, another serviceman -- Garrett Knight, who also was in the Security Forces Squadron -- made his way to Bradley, working to patch him up and get him into a Medivac within an hour.
Bradley was flown to a base in Afghanistan, where he was put in a nine-day medically induced coma and underwent 11 operations. He then was flown to Germany for another surgery before being taken to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
He has six screws in his face, 38 screws in his right arm, 11 in his right hand, a 6-inch screw in his hip and one in his knee.
Part of the credit for his recovery belongs to his daughter, Khaila, whose picture he taped next to his hospital bed.
"I got really motivated," he said. "I lost a really good friend that day. I figure I couldn't complain because [Gonzalez] would have given anything to be going through what I was going through."
After he was released from Walter Reed, Bradley made his way out to the golf course to enjoy the sport he first took up in 2005.
Golf has given him a release, helping him rebuild his muscles and body after the bombing and serving as a temporary escape from the divorce he went through after returning home.
Bradley, who has received many awards, including the Purple Heart and Airman of the Year, medically retired from active duty in May 2009. He moved to Haslet earlier this year after he was awarded a mortgage-free home through the Homes 4 Wounded Soldiers program.
He now has a part-time job at a Southlake golf shop and a girlfriend. And his daughter is starting first grade.
While he still goes through physical and occupational therapy, and faces more surgeries in the future, he is not bitter.
Tattooed on his left arm is a Bible verse often quoted by his mother, Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
"There's a reason for everything," Bradley said. "Time heals all. It really does."
Back on track
Getting back on the golf course after being released from the hospital gave Bradley some normality. At first, he found that the sport helped him relax.
Then, as his body began getting stronger, healing from the more than a dozen surgeries, he began relishing the challenge the golf course presented.
"It's all on you," he said. "It's not a team sport. You can always get better."
At times, playing golf does hurt his arm or hip or foot or make his body ache. "Not all the time, but you fight through," he said.
He frequently plays at Las Colinas Country Club, where Bush's golf tournament will be this month.
Last year, Bradley played in the Warrior Open golf tournament and qualified to play in this year's tournament as well.
This year, Knight -- the serviceman who was first to provide medical help to Bradley after the explosion -- will be Bradley's guest at the tournament.
This is the second year for the Warrior Open, a golf tournament hosted by Bush and his presidential center for U.S. service members severely wounded in the global war on terror.
This year, 22 competitors will play in the two-day, 36-hole competition Sept. 24-25 at the Las Colinas Country Club.
To qualify, servicemen and women must have been seriously injured in the war on terror, be active-duty, retired or honorably discharged, have a verifiable golf handicap of 20 or less and play five rounds at one course with another player willing to verify the score.
Bush has said he doesn't want U.S. troops to think he has forgotten them. "I was a little concerned that our veterans don't think I still respect them and care for them a lot," he told media last year. So he created this tournament to show his appreciation and try to help wounded soldiers at the same time.
"Golf is an important part of the rehabilitation process for many of those seriously injured on the front lines," Bush wrote in a letter posted on the Warrior Open website.
Nothing like it
Last year, Bradley shot an 86 and a 91 in the competition.
It wasn't enough to win overall, but it earned him the No. 5 slot and qualified him for this year's event.
His best score ever came earlier this year, when he shot a 69, and he logged his first one hole-in-one last year, one month after the Warrior Open.
Bradley enters this year's tournament with a handicap of six and a determination to do better than last year.
"That was the first real tournament I'd played in," he said, noting that it came six months after his last surgery. "I wasn't nervous, just mad because I thought I'd do better.
"I want to do good. I want to play well," he said. "I've been looking forward to it every day since my last putt in last year's tournament."
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610
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