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Hero of the Month: Colorado veteran transforms life after grenade attack

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DENVER -- Ian Newland has a body full of shrapnel after he was nearly killed by a grenade in Iraq 11 years ago. It's been a tough road to recovery, but he's now transformed his attitude, his life -- and most of all, his body -- in the hopes of inspiring others.

Newland spends hours in the gym every day, motivated by the people who told him he couldn't do it.

"I said, well why not try. And I started with a two pound dumbbell.  And then I got on the treadmill and did five minutes, and then the next week I hurt, and my shrapnel would swell up and the scars and everything would hurt real bad but I just kept at it," Newland said.

Hard to believe the transformation Newland has made from 11 years ago, when he was barely able to walk after the unthinkable happened in Iraq.

An insurgent tossed a grenade into the Humvee where Ian and four others were sitting. Instead of climbing to safety, his Army buddy Pfc. Ross A. McGinnis used his own body to shield Newland and the others in the vehicle.

McGinnis was killed and was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush.

"I stayed alive because a soldier of mine paid the ultimate sacrifice. When McGinnis jumped on that hand grenade and saved me and everyone else in that vehicle, that's why I'm alive. He had the courage and the fortitude to say, you know what, I want these guys to live, and he jumped on that grenade. And he died in my arms shortly after, but if it wasn't for him, that grenade would've killed everyone of us," Newland said.

Newland was severely injured in the grenade attack, and what followed was years of physical pain, life-threatening post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. But through it all, he learned something about himself. He is a survivor.

"I can go through something very traumatic and change my life for the better. And use my experience -- what happened to me -- to help motivate other people," Newland said.

Motivation people is his full-time job now. He does it by tackling every challenge that comes his way.

Last month, he tried out for American Ninja Warrior. And later this month, he's taking part in an off-road ruck race. He'll be lugging 55 pounds on his back -- for 30 kilometers.That's more than 18 and a half miles.

None of this ever takes his thoughts off what happened to his friend McGinnis.

"Sometimes I still wake up and it`s the first thing on my mind," Newland said.

But he has finally figured out how to use his setback as a comeback. And for that, FOX31 wants to give back.

We've named Newland the FOX31 Problem Solvers Serving Those Who Serve Hero of the Month for May.  Along with a plaque, he gets a $250 gift card from DCP Midstream.

It should come as no surprise, however, that Newland isn't exactly comfortable being recognized like this.

"Yeah, I don't really care for that title (of hero). To me, the heroes are the guys who never came home ... soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice and didn't make it home and now they`re buried in Arlington, that`s where the heroes are."

Spoken like a true hero.

For more information on the ruck race Newland is competing in, click here.

FOX31 is a proud sponsor of the Colorado Veteran's Project Memorial Day Run and March in Castle Rock.  There is a 5K, a 10K and a 30K march.  FOX31's Jeremy Hubbard and Aristea Brady will emcee the event.  Come join us in honoring Colorado veterans.

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