May 14, 2022 2 min read
Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.___Willie Spruill was ready to drive his car right through the front doors of the medical facility at Ft. Bragg five years ago.
When he was 10 minutes late for an appointment one morning because of traffic, the nurses said “sorry” and wouldn’t see him. This veteran of the 82nd Airborne sat in a stew in his car in the parking lot. He revved the engine of his car, kept the seat belt unbuckled, and said, “Hell with it. Hell with the Army. Hell with Ft. Bragg.”
He had been a vibrant athlete until he injured his spine jumping into Fort Chafee, Ark.. He sat on a stump after the jump and couldn’t move. Spruill had to be carried to a Blackhawk helicopter. Walking was unbearable with the pain and the Army’s remedy was to give him a cane and opioids.
The heck with it, he said to himself again. He gripped the wheel.
“It was on my mind to take my car and run through the hospital with it,” Spruill said
The phone rang. It was a nurse. They could see him after all.
It was an intervention that saved his life. Someone heard this hard-bitten vet.
Willie went to the appointment, but the army offered no new solutions. He called his son, who took him to a track near the base. “Walk,” he said. Willie left the cane in the car and started walking. He shucked the drugs, too. That was in 2017.
Look at him now. He is sculpted at 63 and looks the part of a sprinter. In a competitive field in the 100 meter dash 60-64 age group, Spruill was sixth after the heat races Friday and will line up for Saturday’s finals with a chance to win and surely with a chance to medal at The National Senior Games.
He tells you how far he has come. “I couldn’t run one step because nerves are touching the bone,” Willie said. “I hadn’t run in 24 years.”
Spruill has been ranked among the top three in the U.S. in the 100, 200, and 400 and has developed a brand, which includes lime green wraparound shades and a toothpick dangling from his mouth, almost 24/7. He first put a toothpick in as a high school baseball player 45 years ago because it helped him relax in the batters box.
The toothpick is Willie Spruill’s talisman, his magic power, his good luck. It drips from his mouth, but doesn’t fall, even when he is flying down the track. It’s his thing. He said his “Diamond” toothpick has fallen out of his mouth just twice while racing.
He takes it out to eat, but he doesn’t always take it out to sleep.
Spruill is qualified for the World Games in Finland this summer. It’s a heavy lift because of the cost ($5,000). He has set up a GoFundMe page and has raised $2,170 in several weeks.
Think about funding Willie. It is the least we can do for one of our veterans.
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