Posted at: 04/20/2013 1:31 PM
Updated at: 04/20/2013 5:40 PM
By: Katherine Johnson
Looking at Michael Simon, you wouldn't know that just five years ago, petting his dog, Annie, was something his brain wouldn't let his body do.
"I believe I was given a second chance," said the Stillwater man as he sat on the couch, scratching Annie's ears.
A tumor had grown to become the size of a grapefruit while Simon was overseas serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom - exposed to uranium, burn pits and the stress of an extended tour.
"The size of that tumor grew essentially like a weed," he said.
It was the third largest frontal lobe tumor ever recorded in the history of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and after a 17 hour surgery, it was gone. Simon had another shot at life. But he didn't know how to start living again.
"A lot of folks don't really understand brain injury. It's not say you lose friends," he said. "It's what you call the new normal."
Simon was selected to participate in the Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic - a program designed to help veterans cope with their "new normals" through learning new sports in the Colorado Rockies.
"There's folks that have lost limbs and everything else and just to see what they can do. Folks that are blind... it gives you a whole new outlook on life."
Simon just returned from his fourth year in attendance.
"None of us go through the exact same experience out there but to get with folks who have been through something that's maybe life changing- that's the best experience of it."
Although he still struggles with short-term memory loss, his loving wife, Marno, helps continue the recovery at home. Along with his dog, Annie.
"It's like she picked us when we went to pick her up at the shelter."
Annie is a rescue dog and above all else, Simon knows the value of a second chance.
Simon is already on to the next challenge. He wants to become a ski instructor at the Winter Sports Clinic. He's training to compete in his first triathlon since his surgery and the challenge he's looking forward to the most: parenthood.
Simon and his wife are on the waiting list to adopt their first child.