Wounded soldier now ‘handicapable’

Grand Junction, Colo. — Super man slumps in a corner of a doctor’s exam room with an IV needle dangling from his lower arm. He complains about the needles still to come as his 15-year-old daughter fidgets nearby, glancing nervously at this person she had always thought of as an indestructible man-of-steel.

“I’d rather get ambushed than be sitting here, Tim Kenney is telling a nurse. “I do not do well with this.”

Tim Kenney shows Bob Chamberlain the ins and outs of fly fishing at Pacochupuk State Park on the Uncompahgre River, August 2, 2012. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

Shelby Kenney remarks on her changed father. “I don’t ever remember him going to a doctor,” she says. “He really was like Superman to me.”

That was before Tim Kenney enlisted in the Army National Guard five years ago and deployed to Afghanistan as a scout and a gunner. Several roadside explosive devices and a bullet later, and after more than a year of surgeries and rehabilitation, Kenney is still trying to get used to this transition from the dad of four who could do it all, to the father who needs one of his daughters to drive him home to Montrose from his latest medical appointment.

It’s embarrassing for Kenney and perplexing to a family that has coined a new adjective to describe him — “handicapable.”

“It’s weird how amazing he was – how amazing he is,” Shelby quickly adds. “It’s hard to accept he can’t really do everything he used to do.”

Even though the 46-year-old Kenney’s post-war life is punctuated by visits to pain specialists, hours in physical therapy, long spells in dental chairs, regular counseling appointments, and more needles and pills than he could ever imagine, Kenney says he feels he is climbing out of what a year ago seemed like utter debilitation.

Tim Kenney carries poles for a couple from Texas he's guiding on a fly fishing trip at Pacochupuk State Park on the Uncompahgre River, August 2, 2012. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

A standout high school and college athlete who still was known for his strength and endurance as he passed the four-decade mark, Kenney is settling into a new normal. That includes getting back to his previous work of guiding flyfishing trips.

This summer, Kenney has been able to guide one or two trips a week. Before his stint in Afghanistan he could guide daily, oaring rafts through the wild Gunnison Gorge and making difficult hikes to reach the best waters.

As he waits now for a physician who will stab a needle into his lower back to deaden a painful nerve, Kenney scrolls on his iPhone through pictures of the trip he guided the day before near Ridgway at a handicapped-accessible stretch of river. Beaming clients standing in sparkling blue water cradle 24-inch trout in their arms — proof to Kenney that he’s still got it — or, at least, some of it.

The photos highlight the continuing dichotomy of Tim Kenney, uber outdoorsman and father figure, and Spc. Tim Kenney, wounded warrior sent home early under a special military program to recuperate with his family for his last year of service.

When he was bedridden following his return from one tour in Afghanistan, it was easier to understand that he was injured and needed time to heal.

Tim Kenney tries to recover from a migraine while his wife Trish helps their son Biniyam, 4, fix his dump truck Wednesday afternoon, August 1, 2012. Kenney calls it a casualty of war, half his body goes numb when he's down with a migraine, something that never happened before his combat tour in Afghanistan. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

But as the pain from plates and rods in his lower back and the knitting together of a torn shoulder, continue to stop him short in everyday activities, it is harder.

“I didn’t need any help before. I could do anything anytime, anywhere,” Tim explains.

“I have a lot of my physical strength back, but it’s the pain that wears me out,” he adds.

He’s also lost his swagger — what he called a “cool wrestler’s slouch” and his wife of 24 years, Tricia, referred to as his “bad-ass walk.” Now, Kenney walks straight-backed and stiff. He calls this new gait, “my old-man walk.”

He jokes that he walks just like some of his septuagenarian fishing clients. And he is serious when he reveals he sometimes has to “check out for a few minutes” while guiding so he can get control of the pain. He tells his clients what has happened to him and says they are always understanding.

Now, in this pain clinic room, he is telling the doctor, “Do whatever you gotta do. Do it.”

He is led into another room for the procedure. Kenney’s yelp can be heard through the door when the doctor’s needle hits the inflamed nerve.

Bowie, a motherless baby raccoon Tim Kenney rescued, is the newest member of the Kenney family. They are raising him until he can fend for himself and return to the wild. Mahala Gaylord, The Denver Post

Following the treatment, his pain is gone — for the time being. He is woozy and stumbly as he has a cigarette outside the clinic. But he is on his cell when it rings making arrangements with his employees at Toads Guide Shop for more fishing trips coming up in the next week.

Shelby Kenney is glad it is over. She knows it will help him because she has seen his disabilities decrease since he came home a broken man. She springs into the driver’s seat of her dad’s pickup as he pulls himself into the passenger seat. </p><p>It’s her job now to get him back home where one thing hasn’t changed: “He’s still trying to be Superman.”

Nancy Lofholm: 970-256-1957, nlofholm@denverpost.com or twitter.com/nlofholm

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About Lee Ann Colacioppo

I am the Senior Editor/News at the Denver Post. I have been at The Post sincd 1999 in a variety of positions, including city editor and investigations editor. I previously worked at The Des Moines Register, Greenville, S.C., News and Kingsport, Tenn., Times-News. I'am a Denver native and graduate of Drake University in Des Moines. View all posts by Lee Ann Colacioppo →
  • Kristin

    “I didn’t need any help before. I could do anything anytime, anywhere,”
    Tim explains. “I had a near perfect score on my physical therapy test in
    basic training.”

    Might want to double check this quote, it should be physical training not physical therapy test in basic training. Or to be more exact, the Army Physical Fitness Test (APFT) is commonly called the PT test AKA Physical Training Test.

  • Pingback: Guide Tim Kenney: To Afghanistan and Back | MidCurrent

  • Pingback: Fly Fishing Guide Returns to Water After Tour in Afghanistan | Fly Fishing Experiences

  • Tim Kenney and Family

    Tim Kenney and Family: All of you love each other, stop hurting each other….each time you sense something stressful taking over your relationships, one of you need to say “we rebuke this in the name of Jesus…..Satan get out of here…..we love each other and we are NOT going to allow YOU to interfere in our love for each other.”. Each of you need to begin to support the member of your family that openly can start this way of determination (and more of you begin to show it too) become the healthy family you are longing to be. It should be a “feel good” feeling and get you to a place where it sounds like you want to be…..joined as a united family. Come on, do it and see what happens! I’d LIKE to know, but God WILL know that you and yours have what He gave you at one time and wants you to reclaim. I’ll be praying that YOU ALLwill know when that happens and constantly claim it in Jesus’ name. A Michigan Friend

  • SFwhitegirl

    God bless you and your family. I wish you nothing but happiness Tim, you are a brave man and your wife is a amazing women to hold the fort down why you were gone. To your daughter, you are a amazing girl & will be an amazing young lady just like your mom. Christine*