PROVO, Utah — Two veterans who served in the Marine Corps in Afghanistan together still love to go hiking with each other. The catch here — one was injured in combat and no longer has legs.
John Nelson was driving by Mount Timpanogos when he thought, 'I’m going to take Jonathon to the top of that, by myself.'
Jonathon Blank and Nelson served in the special operations unit of the Marine Corps together in Afghanistan 10 years ago.
“We shared a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get to where we were, and it was all worth it,” Blank said.
Nelson remembers stepping away from where Blank had been standing seconds earlier when an explosive device went off.
“I thought this would be something epic for him to experience, to actually get to the saddle,” Nelson said.
Nelson carried Blank, who weighs 135 lbs, on his back for 14.3 miles, gaining 4,500 feet of elevation.
The worst part, Nelson said, was the pressure on his shoulders.
Blank said it cut off the circulation for his lower body and swinging his arms around Nelon’s neck made them go numb — but both said the view was worth it.
The trip was emotional for Nelson as he imagined not having legs of his own.
Hikers Nate Laird and Phil Casper were coming down the trail when they saw Nelson carrying Blank — both said the sight left them in awe.
“When you see that, you see that determination for them to do what they do, and you want to do that for you and your families,” Laird said.
Casper said if this is what Blank and Nelson do for recreation, he can’t even imagine what they were like in combat.
Blank hopes can spark inspiration inside anyone who thinks they can’t accomplish something.
“Not only have I lived through this, but we’re also special operations guys,” Blank said. “We can do anything. We can maybe instill that mindset into other people.”
On Veteran's Day, Blank and Nelson are planning to hike Mount Whitney — the tallest mountain in California at more than 14,500 feet.