War vet doesn’t let loss of leg slow him down
By Paul Eisenberg For Sun-Times Media
Since losing a leg while stationed in Iraq, veteran Brian Wihelm, a New Lenox resident and computer science major at Lewis University in Romeoville, has competed in the army's pentathlon and done research in such areas as fingerprint analysis and stock ma
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Only six months after being deployed to Iraq as part of the 4th Infantry Division, Brian Wilhelm found himself back in the States and facing a lengthy stay at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.
Enemy fire had tore through his entire calf muscle during an operation along the Tigris River, and the leg couldn’t be saved.
Faced with having to relearn to walk using a prosthetic limb and dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, Wilhelm disregarded the advice of many around him and made a choice that seemed right to him: He re-enlisted and tried to get sent back to Iraq. “I never looked at giving up as being an option,” he said. “I didn’t want an enemy combatant making that decision for me.”
After an exhaustive and intensive month of therapy at Walter Reed — Wilhelm called his physical therapist a “physical terrorist,” while at the same time praising his motivational techniques — he started from square one, back in basic training in an effort to prove he could still fight. Rather than using his leg as an excuse, he said he became annoyed when others tried to make things easier for him because of his wound.
He tried via every channel available to get redeployed to Iraq, an effort he said that was based on the brotherhood bonds formed with his fellow infantry members by fighting together for months,
“They had my back, and I wanted to repay the favor,” he said.
But his efforts to return to his comrades in arms were unsuccessful, so Wilhelm turned his attention to another pursuit: athletics. He enrolled in the army’s World Class Athlete Program, a program that, according to its website, “provides outstanding soldier-athletes the support and training to compete in national and international competitions leading to Olympic and Paralypmic Games.”
Once again, Wilhelm thought big. Rather than focusing on any one event, he decided on the pentathlon, a collection of five track-and-field events including long jump, shot put, discus and 100 and 400 meter races.
At first, Wilhelm said, he thought that he would be laboring under the heavy label “disabled,” but as he continued to train with his fellow athletes, his eyes opened to the amazing accomplishments that were being achieved. Fellow amputee and competitor Marlon Shirley, for example, could run 100 meters in less than 11 seconds. Some of those accomplishments made him realize that training in five events was preventing him from being great at any one, so he decided to focus on discus.
After training and competing for two years, Wilhelm realized he had to make a choice. “It was either college or competing, and I thought I’d do better in the long run with college,” he said.
Focusing on research
Wilhelm enrolled at Lewis University because it was near his New Lenox home, had the classes he wanted to take and offered more than other local colleges, as it was a faith-based institution.
He began studying computer science with the goal of going into information security. But through that major he’s been able to explore many facets of the wider field. As part of one project, he’s helped design with the chemistry department a way for law enforcement agencies to make fingerprint analysis easier and more fruitful, using advanced detection methods as well as computer analysis.
His studies have also led him to the financial sector as well. Wilhelm recently completed an eight-week research program focusing on automated computer systems that will help people get in front of trends in the stock and commodities markets. Called “Automated Marketing Analysis to Maximize Profits and Minimize Risks,” the research effort was the result, he said, of his studies into how financial markets work, especially in the hours when the markets are closed.
“A lot of the forces that shape what’s going on in the markets are put into play before the markets even open,” he said, noting that brokers are increasingly relying upon automated systems to stay in front of trends.
Eventually, Wilhelm would like to release his results as open source software that individuals can use and shape to their own needs, evening the field between regular folks and high-power banking concerns.
But for now, the married father of two is doing what he’s always done: channeling his inner drive to get results, no matter what obstacles get in his way.