'This is really special': Segway helps disabled vet stay mobile

News-DemocratMay 21, 2014 

Robert Guithues suffered a debilitating back injury in Afghanistan. On Tuesday, he got a Segway from Segs4VETS before the Cardinal game in St. Louis.

PROVIDED PHOTO/BND

Robert Guithues used to be an avid runner, often logging up to seven miles in a day through the countryside to help relieve the stress of memories from a combat career.

A back injury suffered while on active duty in Afghanistan has put an end to his running. But thanks to Segs4VETS, Guithues, 42, of St. Jacob, will be able to get back out on the trail and also handle such mundane tasks as shopping.

Guithues was one of six wounded veterans to receive a Segway from the volunteer group Tuesday during a ceremony before the St. Louis Cardinals game at Busch Stadium.

Guithues grew up in Granite City and enlisted in the U.S. Army right after high school. He was a first sergeant in the 101st Airborne Division in 2010 when he was injured.

He said he was in Afghanistan, working atop an improvised tower, sighting a gun emplacement. He was coming down from the tower when the stairs collapsed and injured him.

"I was pretty sure I could work through it," he said. But he was too severely injured.

After a lot of rehabilitation and hard work, he now has a spinal cord stimulator which he said, "Delivers an electric current up and down my spine that shuts down the pain gates and allows me to have some sort of normal function."

It forced him to retire before he wanted to and has left him 100 percent disabled.

He said he heard about Segs4VETS from one of his soldiers.

"I filled out an application and then I didn't hear anything for a long time," he said. "I wondered if it was a scam like a lot of the help that is offered."

But the organization just takes some time to raise the money necessary to purchase the Segways. It awarded its first three Segways in 2005. It is an all volunteer organization, founded by Jerry Kerr who lives in Frontenac, Mo.

You can find out more about the organization at its website: www.segs4vets.org.

Guithues said the organization has been fantastic.

"They put us up at the Westin (hotel) and gave us dinner," he said. "The volunteers are from all over the country."

He received training on using the Segway and then took a test drive through downtown to the Gateway Arch and back.

He also received an attachment for the back of his pickup truck to carry the Segway and can get additional support if needed.

Guithues and his wife, Tami, have two kids in college. He said he brought his mother, Julia Green, along for the presentation as a reward for all she has done for him.

Guithues served a tour of duty in Iraq as well as Afghanistan. He said he was part of the march on Baghdad in 2003.

He applauded anyone who gives to military people.

"The military in general gives you motivation," he said. "It's nice when people thank you for your service. But something like this is really special. It really means something."

He is just sorry he had to give up his career too soon.

"But I'd do it again in a heartbeat," he said.

Have a column idea? Call Wally at 239-2506 or 800-642-3878; or email: wspiers@bnd.com

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