After spending more than half his life in unimaginable pain, a local veteran is healing, thanks to new medical technology, and opening doors for the disabled.
Shane Jernigan, of McClure, was a world-class wrestler, winning a national title at age 12; he also played football. He said that he was recruited on a full academic scholarship to study pre-med and wrestle at Ohio State.
After his college career abruptly ended on an injury, he enlisted to become an Army Ranger.
The long process to become an elite soldier includes diving, jumping out of planes, and learning to be a sniper.
In 1994, at age 22, he was violently injured in a parachute accident while his unit was training in Florida.
“I fell over 125 feet in full combat equipment, broke my back in six places … all my joints were jacked up,” Jernigan said, adding that he’s also on his second artificial knee, due to the fall.
His rifle exploded in his shoulder and detached his bicep.
The immediate concern was Jernigan’s spine, which led to years of neglecting the other injuries — which led to the eventual amputation of his left leg at the knee.
“There’s never time to feel sorry for yourself as an Army Ranger,” Jernigan said. “It’s the Ranger way, you just keep on going and suck it up.”
Just 22 months after the parachute incident, he was back in action — jumping out of planes.
“Three years, three months later, I was another (tier-one) selection. I was smoking it,” Jernigan said.
In 1999, while running in the Appalachians — carrying 100 pounds of gear —he stepped in a gopher hole and snapped his ankle.
During the healing process, Jernigan became an instructor. But he would be plagued with chronic pain.
In 2002, he re-injured the ankle. On bad advice, Jernigan said he continued to run on it, essentially “destroying” the ankle.
“They told me ‘just train to pain.’ Well, I’m an Army Ranger, I’m just going to go until I drop.”
When he couldn’t run anymore, his back pain returned with a vengeance, along with the knee issues. For years, he had trained for ultra-marathons and triathalons, which he believed kept his body in such good shape that it kept other issues at bay.
“It kept my back muscles so strong, it alleviated probably 90% of the spinal issues that I had,” Jernigan said.
His leg pain almost drove him mad, he said. By 2003, he was begging doctors to amputate it.
“I’m like, if you don’t chop my leg off, I’m literally going to go home and take an ax and chop it off myself,” Jernigan said.
He credits his mental toughness for surviving.
In 2019, Special Operations sponsored him to go to the Center for Intrepid, a warrior rebuild medical center that specializes in amputees, in San Antonio, Texas. He was set up with a team of 25 surgeons, doctors, physical and occupational therapists and prosthetists for the amputation.
The story doesn’t end there.
He said his “nubby” continued to pulse out phantom pain.
Jernigan was introduced to fellow veteran Dr. Jason Souza with the Military Medicine Program at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. He operated on Jernigan’s leg to reduce the pain by reshaping the remaining limb to better fit into his prosthesis. He rerouted injured nerves through a procedure known as targeted muscle reinnervation.
Jernigan, who is an Archbold native, and his wife, Erika, an interior design major at Bowling Green State University, live in McClure.
He continues to push his body — while helping other veterans and disabled persons.
Jernigan, who is 51, is an instructor with Adaptive Sports Connection, teaching disabled veterans and civilians. He’s also an ambassador for Run Toledo and Triathalon Toledo. He’s also active in Taskforce 20, a veterans group based in Grand Rapids.
Some of his favorite activities are hand and ski-biking. He hopes to compete in the Invictus Games in the future.
He has twin sons, Conur and Colin, who also serve in the military, and two grandsons.