An Ugly Nightmare to a Beautiful Dream
Zach Hill, Division 3, College junior #ws18e-s2d3

If there's one thing that I've learned in life, it's that both people and dreams can change. Dreams can evolve into nightmares and nightmares can evolve into dreams. For me, I fell into the latter category. I realized this as I was sitting by my grandfather's deathbed, watching the man that I affectionately called ""Pops"" pass away. He was my Superman. My hero. He was everything that I aspire(d) to be; I admired for everything he stood for, the way he quietly, but firmly, stood his ground on things he was passionate about. My grandfather was the father figure that I desperately needed and, more often than not, he pulled through.

And then, he was gone. He passed away before I could graduate, have kids, become successful. But from the moment he passed, I knew I had to change. Up to that day, I had dreamed of becoming a sports journalist. I love writing and sports; combining the two seemed like a sure ticket to both happiness and success. When my grandfather died, however, I knew my purpose lied beyond writing about the four major sports. He was a Vietnam War veteran who had lost an arm and a leg in 1968, a few months before turning 20. Because of his service, I became enamored with both the war and the men who fought in it. That passion transferred to other wars and I soon became a war-history geek. A few months after my grandfathers passing, it clicked.

I wanted to become a combat journalist.

Change takes many forms: mentally, physically, and emotionally. At first, I was miserable and downright depressed. Never had I encountered a loss that was as devastating as his, especially with it being on the cusp of my high school graduation. It took me several months to return to my ""normal state"" and even then, I felt empty. But as time progressed, I began to reflect on the good times we'd had growing up. They ranged from small things, like riding with him to pick up a pizza from a local favorite, to adventures within the state. Change doesn't come without effort or pain, and gradually, I became more and more thankful the more I reflected on our experiences together.

Emotionally, I had to come to terms with the fact that my grandfather was gone, but never to be forgotten. In certain situations, I find myself thinking ""What would Pops do?"", and ultimately make a decision based on that factor alone. Coming to terms with his passing was no easy feat, but as I said, without pain, change cannot be successfully completed. As a result, I matured emotionally and found that my relationships, both of the romantic and non-romantic variety, had greatly improved. I was more open to change while also sticking to my guns, values that I believed in and followed.

Physically, I knew I would have to change in order to survive the ungodly heat of the Middle East. I was already on the heavier side and realized that, in my current state, probably wouldn't get very far. I began to make small changes in my diet, like drinking less diet soda and substituting it for water. From then, it was pizza to salad, from dessert to nothing. I lost a substantial amount of weight and, as a result, began to feel better about the way I looked and saw a huge boost to my self-confidence. I began exercising more, slowly evolving from leisurely walks around the block to full-on sprints.

From that point on, I didn't hesitate on swinging at life's curveballs, even though I missed on a few. The more I began conducting research on the treatment of war veterans, the more empathetic I became to their cause. I began volunteering at veterans' groups, Concerned Veterans for America in particular, and talking with war veterans. I quickly learned the needs of disabled veterans, how the VA was doing little to change its' core functions. Veterans are constantly being mistreated, whether it be by paid professionals or a passerby on the street. One of my goals is to use my influence in the combat journalism field to pave the way for change in the VA hospitals across America.

Would I change the past? Absolutely not. If I hadn't changed my dreams, I wouldn't be the man I am today, nor would I be as satisfied as I am today. If I hadn't changed who I was then, I would still be looking to change today. Right now, I'm too busy focused on the future to be busy looking at the past. I'm excited for what my future holds for me, but I couldn't have gotten here without the most excruciating loss I've ever experienced.
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