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HIGHLANDS RANCH, Colo. — Craig Vogtsberger laces up every day for a run, but he has one extra step of preparation most don’t have to go through: After lacing up his ASICS, he fastens his BlueROCKER brace to his left shin.

“The foot just drags on the ground if I’m not wearing the brace,” Vogtsberger said.

Seventeen years ago, a National Guard training exercise turned into an accident: Two Humvees crashed together with Vogtsberger caught in between. It left him with a series of injuries and a long recovery. Now, he has what’s called “foot drop,” a partial paralysis in his left foot. 

“You know, I was stuck in a chair for five years on medication and the highlight of my life was going to McDonald’s and getting a Big Mac,” he said. “And I was going, ‘I can’t be a police officer anymore. I can’t serve in the military. What am I going to do?’”

Vogtsberger said he struggled for years, trying to find purpose adjusting to his new reality. But then, something triggered in him that made him realize he had to get back on track.

“I just made that choice that one day where I had to flip that switch, and I’m gonna live,” Vogtsberger said.

Step by step, he started running again. Vogtsberger had done triathlons in the past and tried building himself back up into shape with proper training and gear to accommodate his disability. 

“Running is simple. What I found with running was the freedom,” he said. “Just finding new things to conquer… and the last few years, it’s been the 21k.”

This year marked a major milestone, as Vogtsberger placed first in the physically challenged male division for the XTERRA Trail Run World Championship in Hawaii. He completed the 21-kilometer (13 miles) trail run with an official time of 3:06:45. Now, with the major goal crossed off his list, Vogtsberger wants to continue to dedicate his time to helping other disabled veterans achieve theirs.

“You got to find something that you love and that you’re passionate for and go for it,” he said.