Life Lessons and Knee-Slapping Laughs with Travis Mills
If Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills starts a story with, “We were drinking whiskey,” you know it’s going to be a story about something he did that many people would not – like buying a marina or an old barn he plans to convert to a distillery. But while the stories may seem to reflect an almost reckless impulsiveness, they are in reality a reflection of a fun-loving spirit who also happens to enjoy the calculated risks of entrepreneurship.
For people like Travis, when asked the question, “What’s the worst that could happen?” the word “worst” has a different threshold than it does for most.
Travis Mills survived an IED blast that resulted in the loss of portions of his arms and legs.
Both arms and both legs were either mostly amputated in the blast or in surgery after the fact. It was on Travis’ 25th birthday that he awoke in Walter Reed Hospital and discovered he was now one of just a few living quadruple amputees.
The young husband, father, and soldier could have allowed self-pity and depression to become his new driving forces, but instead, Travis has become his own driving force who now impacts people all over the country with his foundation, his speaking, and his spirit.
Just as his love of whiskey and entrepreneurial challenges can make it seem like nothing ever worries Travis, his blinding smile and sharp wit may make it appear as though nothing can ever bother him – but that’s not true. The truth is Travis has extreme clarity in life and an inner spirit that allows him to filter out anything that stands between himself and fulfillment.
Where some people may focus on what they do not have, Travis focuses on what he does have. His loving wife, his beautiful children, his true friends and family, and the gift of life itself are all he needs to remind him of what’s most important in life. Everything else is manageable.Army Staff Sergeant Travis Mills
He doesn’t even describe himself as a wounded warrior. Instead, he says he’s a “recalibrated” warrior who is also mostly “just a happy guy, husband, and father.” Add author, speaker, advocate for veterans and amputees, and entrepreneur to that description and it’s more complete. “Don’t tell my wife. She doesn’t know yet,” Travis laughed as he talked about the old barn he’d be closing on days after this interview took place.
By now that deal has been done and Travis is on his way to converting the barn into a tavern and a whiskey and gin distillery. This will complement the marina he already owns with a buddy of his. That seed was planted by the former marina owner and decided upon over whiskey with the same buddy Travis had recently been “grounded from” after the two new friends’ whiskey-inspired gun purchases just a few weeks prior.
The “aw shucks” grin on Travis’ face is more amused than repentant and seems to promise more surprises for his wife down the road.
SSG Travis Mills has earned the right to go after his own American Dream.
He’s given an arm and a leg for it- literally- twice. The fact that he survived those catastrophic injuries with not just his life but his spirit intact is a testament to the skill of the medics and his own motto of “Never give up. Never quit.”
His sense of humor also survived the blast.
“It still works,” he quips to audiences everywhere in anticipation of a question he knows they wonder about but don’t want to ask. “I’ve got my son to prove it.”
Travis’s wife Kelsey gave birth to their little boy Dax after Travis was released from the hospital. They named their son in honor of the two men that saved Travis’s life. Combat Medics Daniel Bateson and Alexander Voyce worked together to place tourniquets on all four of Travis’s limbs and pumped fluids into his body while assuring him he was going to survive.
The medics may have saved his life, but Travis still had to find a way past his pain to enjoy that gift. He’s had to learn how to put his arms and legs on and figure out when it’s not worth wearing one of his robotic arms that causes his entire body to overheat. He’s had to build his core strength up to even stronger levels than before. He’s had to learn how to walk and dress himself and how to address the inevitable stares from strangers.
He talks about all that and more in his book, Tough as They Come. He shares the story of his angry comment to a little girl he caught staring at him in an airport, and how the look in her eyes broke through his anger to make him aware of the impact it was having.
Today he openly and warmly greets people and has fun joking with kids, telling them he works with Ironman.
Travis Mills has come a long way since he awoke in that hospital bed on his 25th birthday.
His injured body has revealed an indomitable spirit. Together with his wife, Travis now runs the Travis Mills Foundation, where hundreds of other “recalibrated warriors” have come to retreats in Maine to learn how to overcome their own physical injuries. In that process, Travis helps them formulate the mindset they will need to never quit, and never give up.
He cannot personally help every veteran with every issue. Travis is aware of that and comfortable in his niche. While the foundation retreats are solely for those veterans recovering from physical injuries, Travis and his team are more than happy to help link other veterans with resources applicable to their other needs when called upon.
It’s difficult to guess what Travis Mills will be up to next.
But if you’re ever up in Maine, stop by his Lakeside Marina and stay a night or two. If you run into Travis, thank him for the example he sets and ask him where to find tips about the local fishing because he doesn’t know much about fishing himself, he admits with a smile.
What he does know is how blessed he is to be alive. He knows what it’s like to lose good friends, and what it’s like to lose the vision of the life he had for himself and his family. He knows how to build a bigger, brighter life once that vision is abruptly shattered.If you’re not willing to go the extra mile, then you’re not going to get the extra mile – Travis MillsClick To Tweet
This is how Travis simply sums up what it takes to achieve anything great in life, whether it’s building a business, recovering from trauma, or overcoming any obstacle to a dream.
He bought and flipped 7 houses to build up enough income to buy that marina. He worked hard to build a future for his family and he’s thrilled just to have the chance to do so. He’s also committed to helping others do the same.
“The American dream is still out there,” says Travis. “You can be as successful as you want and you can make excuses as much as you want.” Travis won’t help anyone make excuses, but he will help them push past their challenges to achieve more than they once believed they could, and he loves doing that with the veterans who come to his foundation.
“I tell people how fortunate I am to live in the greatest nation in the world,” says Travis.
We think this nation is pretty lucky to have him.