Seth Jahn poses for a portrait at the 2016 Team USA Media Summit on March 9, 2016 in Beverly Hills, California.
Laying on a hospital bed recovering from near-fatal injuries suffered while fighting in Afghanistan in 2010, Seth Jahn made a life-changing decision.
Not only was he going to walk again, Jahn was going to live life to the fullest.
Jahn, who was told by several doctors that he would never walk again, spent a year and a half in a hospital, which he calls “one of the most difficult, arduous times of my life,” and another year in athletic rehabilitation.
“It changed my perspective on life, on how infinite our time is on this planet is,” he said in a recent interview with TeamUSA.org. “It maximized every opportunity, and I just cherished every interaction. I know those are kind of cliché things that people say, but it just meant something different to me at that point.”
Jahn, now 36, put actions behind those words. He has raced Formula 1 cars, climbed some of the highest mountains, run with the bulls in Spain and swam with sharks, among other accomplishments.
His most recent challenges came on and off the field in soccer.
This summer, Jahn worked on the security detail for the U.S. women’s soccer team in France, where it won a second consecutive FIFA Women’s World Cup on July 7. Then he immediately turned around and competed with the U.S. Para 7-a-Side national team the next day as it opened the IFCPF World Cup in Seville, Spain.
“It was a whirlwind,” Jahn said.
Indeed, it was.
Jahn then laughed. But he wasn’t kidding.
“I had already talked to my coach, and he knew that I wasn’t going to get any sleep that night,” Jahn said. “I’m not going to be drinking or anything like that, but I will be partying with these girls. It was complete elation.”
Despite the tight schedule, Jahn, the team captain, was on the field on July 8 as the U.S. opened the tournament against Iran, one of the best in the world at 7-a-Side, a discipline for athletes who have cerebral palsy or who have suffered traumatic brain injuries or other damage to the central nervous system.
There was nowhere else Jahn would rather be.
Three years earlier, at the Paralympic Games Rio 2016, he had missed a prime scoring chance in a 2-0 loss against Iran, a play that had haunted him ever since. Now in Seville, Spain, he was able to exorcise those demons when he scored the equalizer in what was a stunning 3-2 win.
“That was huge for me on a personal level, too,” he said. “It was kind of a monkey I had been carrying on my back since the Rio Games in 2016.”
The rest of the tournament did not go as smoothly for the Lakeland, Florida, native. Facing Ireland in the final group-stage game, Jahn was red carded in the 1-1 tie, costing him two matches.
The ejection was a result of an opposing player selling a foul to be more severe than what it was, Jahn said.
Nonetheless, the Americans went on to finish sixth in the tournament, and Jahn’s remarkable story continued.
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The Definition Of Determination
If you look for the definition of determination in a dictionary, don’t be surprised if you see Seth Jahn’s picture next to the word.
In wake of Sept. 11, 2001, he decided to join the U.S. Army, deploying three times to Afghanistan and Iraq with the U.S. Army’s 20th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
“9/11 had just happened, and I hate bullies,” Jahn said, adding, “Without getting into the politics of it all, I felt compelled to be a man of action. So that’s what drove me into the military.”
And what almost ended Jahn’s life.
On Oct. 20, 2010, Jahn suffered spinal cord injuries, nerve damage, displaced ribs and severe damage to his shoulders during combat. He also had a traumatic brain injury.
Several doctors told him that he would not walk again.
Jahn never accepted that.
While in the hospital and then rehab, he was determined to get back on his feet and not only walk, but to run — and run hard, figuratively and literally.
“My biggest fear was being 40 years old and saying, ‘I wish I would have, I could have, I should have done that,’” he said. “I refused to let that happen.”
Once Jahn got into a wheelchair, he rehabbed from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily — from physical therapy to occupational therapy to recreational therapy. Then, when the rehab center shut down for the day, Jahn would find his way back in. From 6 p.m. to midnight or even 1 a.m. each night, Jahn tried to teach himself how to walk again.
“I had no desire to make any friends,” he said. “I just wanted to get back to the combat zone. I thought about my team; it’s a small zone, a crazy heavy workload. I thought about the guys carrying my workload because I wasn’t there. It was a lot of motivation for me. My first three teams of doctors told me I would never walk again — the third team said I’d walk with an assisted device. I just refused to hear it. If I listened to all of the naysayers in my life, I would have never accomplished anything.”
As a U.S. government security contractor in the Middle East in 2014, Jahn was injured again when shrapnel from an enemy rocket hit him. He suffered a punctured lung, ruptured eardrum and another traumatic brain injury.
Turning To Sports
Jahn retired from the military in the fall of 2014. Earlier that year, a new journey began. Growing up in Florida, Jahn had been a talented soccer player, even playing briefly for St. Andrews University, an NAIA school in North Carolina.
In the summer of 2014, Jahn rediscovered the sport through a military rehab program. Before long, he was training with the U.S. 7-a-side national team.
As a bruising 6-foot-3, 215-pound target striker, Jahn has made his presence felt.
In 2015, he tallied the game-winner against Scotland that qualified Team USA for the 2016 Paralympics.
“It was a chintzy goal. It was nothing spectacular,” he said. “It was such a powerful moment for me, going from being told I was never walking again to representing my country on the field. It was a brilliant experience, once in a lifetime.”
Jahn has become a mentor of many of Team USA’s younger players. Shea Hammond, 17, who watched Jahn score the goal that lifted the U.S. into the 2016 Games the year prior, was a fan of the forward before they met.
“He was someone I looked up to even before I went to my first camp with him,” Hammond said. “For my first camp, one of the first things he said to me was ‘I’m old enough to be your dad.’ And it was true. Since then he’s really been a father figure to me because some of the guys are older brother figures, but he’s really been a mentor and really helpful.”
At the same time, Jahn has taken on contract jobs working security, including with U.S. Soccer. The Women’s World Cup wrapped up his four-month gig with the USWNT, one in which he got to know the players and even take part in the champagne celebration in France.
"They are the most talented women footballers in the world, and there was an expectation not just from the outside but internally as well,” he said. “Anything less than a gold medal or hoisting that FIFA Women’s World Cup is a failure. I love that mindset, and I really felt it carried over to our team’s success here in the World Cup. Just that cultural mentality.”
Jahn’s post-military life has hardly been limited to soccer, though. Not by a long shot.
He’s embraced every opportunity he can find, and his bucket list seemingly is endless, with such goals as climbing Mount Everest (he has climbed three of the world’s seven highest summits), sailing around the world, flying solo around the world, racing in the Iditarod in Alaska and earning his doctorate from an Ivy League school, preferably Harvard. And that’s just the short list.
“I like to push the envelope,” Jahn said.
And then some.
“I have an ever-evolving bucket list,” he added. “When people hear these little bits, like, wait, what? How I describe myself is that I am a completely ordinary guy who seeks extraordinary situations and I maximize those opportunities. I’ve been so fortunate to have those opportunities where a lot of people can’t afford them.”
And before we forget, he also wants to become an astronaut. With increased interest in returning to the moon in the wake of the recent 50th anniversary of the first moon landing, NASA is looking for astronauts.
“I know all this sounds absolutely ludicrous, but all those guys who attained those things had the same dreams, the same goal,” Jahn said. “I don’t look as any man better than me. It’s how much you are willing to sacrifice and invest yourself into that mission, into that goal. I’ve always immersed myself into every single opportunity that I’ve had.”
Given his many severe injuries, Jahn was asked if he was fortunate to be able to pursue those many lofty goals.
“It’s given me a new fervor for life,” he said. “It has shown me how finite our time is on this planet. It’s made me push harder and faster than I have ever had before. I’ve always been a very goal-oriented person. I’ve constantly been killing two birds with one stone, always doing something while I am doing something else.”
Jahn’s next soccer challenge will be representing the U.S. at 2019 Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru, which run Aug. 23-Sept. 1.
That’s not much time for anyone to catch his breath after the back-to-back World Cup experiences in July, but Jahn felt it was no problem, considering what he has endured.
“It’s a quick turnaround for the guys,” he said. “Serving in a dynamic career in the military and the government, everything else kind of pales in comparison to that.”
Michael Lewis, who covers soccer for Newsday, has written about the sport for four decades and has written six books about soccer. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.