(WFRV) – When you look at Derek Gagne, you can see that nothing holds him back.

From earning a scholarship in high school to play basketball at UW-Madison despite standing just under 6 feet tall, and to following his dream and joining the Army National Guard at just 17.

“My stepdad’s brother died in Vietnam, so I heard stories about it, it made you feel good despite what happened. You still felt good about it and it made you feel like it was something you were supposed to do and it’s something I’ve wanted to do since I was little.”

In ’06 while going to school, playing basketball, and finishing basic training, Gagne learned his Military Police unit would be deploying to Southeast Baghdad.

“That’s what I joined for. I didn’t join to sit at home and sit on the sidelines. I always wanted to be upfront and do what needs to be done.”

Just four months into deployment, Gagne’s life would change, when he and his team were hit by an energy-force projectile.  

Blinded, seriously injured, and unable to tell the gravity of the situation, Gagne jumped into action to drag his team leader to safety. They were the only two to survive of the group.

“You have to take your mind off of it and think about something else. Then, start feeling, once you have a safe point of view, what people and what things you have and then start trying to diagnose what’s up next.”

Two purple hearts, and now an amputee, all at the age of 19- But it never stopped Gagne.

“In my mind, it’s like I should be able to do this, should be able to do that, and it was a lull for like 3-5 years of trying to sort life out. I always figured humor is the best way to get through everything, you know the whole Patch Adams quote, ‘laughter is the best medicine, ‘ well that’s what I did. And if I can’t make fun of myself, no one else can take that from me.”  

Gagne did sort his life out. He volunteered counseling at the VA, got into car racing, and back to a hobby he had before the military – Riding motorcycles.

Gagne was recently gifted this bike from the non-profit Hogs For Heroes, a group aiming to help vets find therapy through riding.

And for Gagne, that’s exactly what it is.

“Motorcycling always has been for me. It helps with depth perception, it helps me free my mind and have time to think. When you’re on the road you’re thinking about driving and staying safe, but it gives your mind some time to relax and think and process without any interruptions.”

Gagne lives his life without limits, and he wants his story to help others do the same.

“Just talk about it. Because no matter what, the more you talk about it the easier it is. People say it’s a cliche, but it’s not. Yeah, the first couple of times it doesn’t feel like it does anything. Then afterwards if you keep talking, keep expressing your feelings, no matter what they are it will help, no matter what. And trust that someone cares.”