STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. (FOX 5 Atlanta) - A former DeKalb County paramedic had one goal on September 11, 2019: climb Stone Mountain.
That would be a tough assignment for many. But consider just five years ago, Willie Myers became a paraplegic.
Myers was on assignment as a civilian contractor protecting high profile executives overseas. People like Secretarys of State Condoleezza Rice and John Kerry. But in 2014, a fitness swim off the coast of Israel turned tragic when a riptide slammed him to the bottom. Willie suffered a C-4 bruise, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down.
But even worse, his insurance company refused to cover the accident, arguing it was outside any "Zone of Special Danger."
Willie would join hundreds of other civilian contractors who had to sue for coverage, some even testifying before Congress. His insurance company eventually settled with him.
A FOX 5 I-Team investigation into Myers' situation caught the attention of the Shadow Warriors Project, a foundation created by a group of former military civilian contractors. They agreed to fund Willie's rehab.
Willie's motivation would suddenly become turbo-charged.
He set himself specific goals. In 2017, Willie's mission was to be able stand up at his daughter's high school graduation. Check. Last year? Walk unassisted. Check. This year? Climb the one-mile trail to the top of Stone Mountain.
Better get those pencils ready.
"There's a lot of people who are going through challenges," he said as he prepared to summit the mountain. "And they give up on themselves. So I'm hoping that if anything... if they can see me do this... then maybe they won't be so quick to give up on themselves."
He was joined by two dozen friends and supporters, including a contingent of DeKalb County firefighters in full gear.
"Never go through life succeeding or accomplishing anything alone," explained Myers as he walked up the trail with two firefighters helping to keep his balance. "So you might as well bring the people who have meant the most to you with you."
Temperatures soared past 90 as Myers carefully made his way up the rocky path. The last time he was here was September 11, 2004, to honor those who lost their lives just three years earlier.
Now 54, on this September 11 Willie would retrace those steps. Slowly. Gingerly. But always moving forward.
It took him two hours and 10 minutes. And then...
"This was a goal I set to do because there's people I'm honoring," he said as he sat in the shade of the summit's snack bar surrounding by sweaty but beaming supporters. "People I'm remembering. But on the other side of it, I'm helping a whole lot of people who just saw me do this. And that's what it's about."