By Debbie Gregory.
If you’re easily offended, Derek Weida probably isn’t your guy.
Weida’s internet videos on bodybuilding and weight loss are chock full of profanity, burping, and beer consumption.
But the amputee veteran has quite a following (millions of viewers), with tens of thousands of people having reached out to him for diet and exercise advice.
The 29 year old Army veteran credits physical fitness as his impetus to break out of a severe depression after an insurgent’s bullet ended his military career and ultimately cost him his leg.
In June 2007, while on his third Iraq tour with the 82nd Airborne Division, he ran into a burst of gunfire as he led his men into an insurgent-filled house during a nighttime raid on the outskirts of Baghdad.
Weida took a bullet through his right knee. After several months of failed surgeries and physical therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, doctors sent him home to Minnesota for recovery and more operations.
Although they couldn’t get his knee to bend, he was still hopeful. Anticipating his return to active duty kept his spirits up.
“They were confident that they could get my knee to work,” he said.
When he was medically retired, Weida said he wallowed in alcohol-fueled anger, depression and suicidal thoughts. He was jailed several times after bar fights, arrested on drunken driving charges and spent time in psychiatric wards.
After it was evident that his leg was hindering his quality of life, doctors agreed to the amputation.
“The way my leg was before, with it not bending, there was nothing I could do to make my life better,” he said. “I couldn’t improve the state of my leg. But now, with a prosthetic, my success is determined solely on how hard I’m willing to push myself.”
Weida’s motivational videos and his organization, The Next Objective, provide him with an alternate way of serving others.
“The two things that really helped me fall out of that dark period of my life was reconnecting with my veteran friends and purpose-driven fitness,” he said. “We use fitness as an alternative to alcohol and things like that. I think fitness is kind of the universal healer.”
The Next Objective, currently awaiting 501 (c) 3 approval, is sustained by donations and is dedicated to empowering returning service members through a focus on fitness, community, and a teamcentric effort to achieve success and happiness in life outside the military. Grants help veterans pay for gym memberships, personal training and event sponsorships.