3/3/2008 - SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany --
"The best things in life for me came after I lost my limbs," said Bob Mortimer, a motivational and ministry speaker who toured Germany for a week, telling his story of what he calls "hope and courage."
Mr. Mortimer's life started out average; blue-collar. He worked at a sawmill in Washington State and hung out with his friends after work, drinking beer and smoking weed. One day, at about 16, he came home to his family's single wide trailer to find his father dead from a drug overdose. When his family relocated within the state, he said he just found a new group of friends to get stoned and drink with.
After partying one night, Bob and his brother were in a car accident where they struck a power pole and slid down an embankment. While they got out of the wrecked car just fine, Bob didn't make it back to the road OK.
Wading through brush, Bob's left arm came in contact with a downed power line. Immediately, 12,500 volts of electricity shot into his body, forcing him to his knees - which caused him to be grounded - and then the voltage shot out of his knees. Once this happened, he fell forward, burning his body as he lay on the other downed wires.
In the ensuing silence, Bob's brother Tom thought he was dead. Tom went to the road and sat down. Remarkably, a moan from Bob sent Tom back to Bob to free him from the power lines and keep him alive until emergency crews arrived.
The next thing Bob remembered was waking up in the hospital the following day. His "good morning" was signing a release to have his left arm amputated. His right leg was gone two weeks later and doctors eventually took the other leg months later.
"When I first woke up, knew that I was electrocuted and would lose my limbs, I didn't think 'Why me?' in the sense that you would think," said Bob. "I thought, 'Why didn't I die? Why did I live?" He said that's when he decided he was going get through the ordeal and live. "I made a very stupid mistake and I should have been dead."
After six months in the Seattle hospital enduring skin grafts and learning to live minus three limbs, Bob was released and soon back to his old habits. More booze. More weed. "I was using it at that point to cope with my loss," he said.
But at 25, when he met his soon-to-be-wife, that all changed. "When I was younger, I think that I would have believed that nobody would love me without legs and both arms," he said. "But Darla, she looked right past my missing limbs."
Not only did she look past that, but she also invited Bob to church. "That day in church is when I made a commitment to Jesus," he said. He admitted that the way he was running his life obviously wasn't working out, so maybe someone else could do a better job.
He also said that he stopped his destructive behavior that day. Bob said that knowing Darla could love him helped build his self-confidence regarding what he can do, versus what he cannot do.
Bob and Darla soon married and today they have three children. At the age of 53, his wife and children have never known him with legs or with two arms. "Along the way," he said, "I discovered that you don't need two legs to raise kids." He also said his children would probably give him a "good duty rating" as far as his fatherly parenting skills are concerned.
But being a father is not all he chose to do.
His goal now is to "make a difference in the world ... to help people make good choices."
Traveling all year long to hundreds of engagements a year, around the globe, speaking to schools, churches, and various organizations, he said his message may be different to each audience; however, his primary point remains the same: hope and courage.
To see people get his message, one would need to be in one of his presentations, at about 15 minutes in. "At first I'm joking around, making legless jokes, playing the harmonica and singing the one-armed blues. Everyone is laughing, relaxing, getting comfortable with me. Then, I pull out a baseball cap that says 'Handi' and I put it on. Then I let everyone know that this is my handicap."
At this point, he said, the audience is usually attentive and leaning forward - this is where they usually get it. "I tell them that the only handicap anyone has is the one that they put on themselves." That, he said, keeps people from being their best. "I think this is the best generation of Americans we have ever produced," he said while at his first visit to a U.S. Air Force base. "And I want to encourage them and let them know that they can do great things."
Walking away from a car crash and surviving being electrocuted, he said "I'm thankful to be alive. I feel as if I've been given a second chance." In his message to others, he wants people have hope and courage. "Hope in a God that cares, knows where we are at and knows what's ahead, as well as the courage to move through a situation to have a better tomorrow."
Editor's Note: Some of the information from Mr. Mortimer's accident account was used by permission, published by Doubleday, a Division of Random House, New York, NY. Copyright © 2001 Luis Palau. To get more information about Mr. Mortimer, go to hcjourney.org and bobmortimer.org.