Kevin McCloskey is still healing.
The 32-year-old veteran is blind in one eye, lost both his legs, and has metal reinforcing his pelvis and his right arm. He’s in physical pain every day, but that’s isn’t what’s at the forefront of his rehabilitation.
He’s working to improve his mental health. It has been almost 12 years since an explosive device destroyed the humvee he was driving in Afghanistan. McCloskey needed 30 surgeries and had to endure a drug-induced coma that he likened to being tortured. He suffered a traumatic brain injury he says still leaves him with memory loss and an occasionally irritable disposition.
He found a coping mechanism in golf, and has since become an 11-handicap who plays in tournaments. On Monday, he was named the most courageous athlete by the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association.
The Tacony native plays a few rounds most weeks. He bartends in his spare time and volunteers to speak for groups working to help veterans cope with the struggles of returning home and dealing with trauma.
Sometimes after a round of golf, he’ll be pleasantly surprised when his fitness tracker shows him he has managed to walk two or three miles even though he’s a double amputee.
From an outsider’s perspective, he’s doing well. But he still has a 50-minute routine to get out the door each morning and the side effects of his brain injury sometimes make conversations difficult. His healing process is ongoing, which made it difficult for him to accept an award lauding his courage in the first place.
“It’s hard to accept it because, although deep, deep down inside I know that I work hard to keep moving forward, it’s been almost 12 years since the injury and it’s finally starting to hit me," he said. "This tough guy persona, and I’m not tough, but trying to act like everything is OK and acting like just because the injury is done — even though every day is therapy — the injury is behind me. But now is the time for me to start healing my mind.”
McCloskey said he had to search the definition of courage to help him wrap his head around the reason he was selected for the award.
“It’s been a hard few days to try to figure out why I’m receiving the award,” he said. “I’ve Googled everything. ... I’ve spoken around the country for a few different organizations that really help out our veterans today. Of all the things I’ve spoken about over the years, this is something I’m not ready for. The definition of courage means so much to so many different people. Who are we to stay which meaning is right?"
The definition McCloskey settled on is an inclusive one: You can be only as courageous as the people around you.
For him, that means the credit goes to his family. His mother, Joanne, lost her job because she spent so much time by McCloskey’s side while he was in the hospital. His sister, Michelle McCloskey-Alicea, helped him with his speech for Monday night and wrote a book about their family’s dealing with Kevin’s recovery.