“You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” – Zig Ziggler”
It’s an early morning at the K-9 Police Academy in Atlantic City when Mike Braxton, the president of his class, scribbles this quote on the whiteboard. It is a particularly powerful quote coming from Mike, given his history.
“A lot of people see greatness out there and think it’s something for other people,” Mike says. “But, in reality, everyone has the same opportunity to be great. You just have to get started.”
At first, the greatness Mike aspired for was to fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a K-9 police officer. But after a traumatic accident took his leg and nearly his life—Mike’s dream evolved into something much bigger.
On June 9, 2013, Mike was riding his motorcycle with a group of friends when suddenly, the car in front of him changed lanes. Mike swerved out of the way and bailed out, jumping from his motorcycle to avoid a collision. When he landed, Mike struck a pole, which amputated his leg instantly.
“Fortunately, I was riding with two of my colleagues,” Mike says. “So they knew exactly what to do.” Being on the police force, these two colleagues had the training and wherewithal to circle back and immediately wrap his leg in a tourniquet, preventing him from bleeding out.
“They saved my life that day,” Mike says. “I shouldn’t be here. If I was by myself, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now.”
Mike says this with such fresh appreciation—for the colleagues who saved his life and for his second chance—that it is clear whatever epiphany he had on the day of his accident has not dulled one bit.
“When you almost leave from here, you realize, wow, there’s a lot of stuff I took for granted,” Mike says. “The accident made me appreciate life more.”
This optimistic energy is one way to make sense of how Mike has managed to get to the place he is today—a place many thought impossible.
Mike’s Fight to Get Back on the Force
When the accident happened, Mike was still early in his career as a police officer—but he knew almost instantly he was not done serving his community. He wanted to get back to work. But without any amputees in his department, nobody was quite sure what Mike needed to do to make that happen.
“All I knew? I was going to have to prove that my amputation does not limit me,” Mike says.
Mike explained to both men exactly what he wanted to accomplish. After each conversation, Mike got the same reaction, “let’s do it.”
“Jim and Eric were gifts from God,” Mike says. “Neither of them hesitated. They never said anything like I’ve never seen this before, or are you sure you can do this?”
Mike Begins the Hardest Physical Quest of His Life
While Eric built Mike a custom prosthetic leg, Jim developed an intensive ten-month plan which included running, lifting, core strengthening, and balancing exercises.
“Jim kept changing things and increasing the intensity,” Mike says. “There was never a day I wasn’t challenged physically and mentally.”
At first, physical therapy was three days a week. Then, Mike started going to the gym on his own following each session. He then added a fourth day at the gym. By the end, Mike hired a personal trainer, Jason Dawson from “Island Gym” to push him even further.
“Walking is different now,” Mike explains. “Since I don’t have an ankle, a foot, or a calf, I now have to balance from my core, glutes, and hamstrings. I had to get them as strong as possible.”
The Day That Determined Mike’s Fate
About one year after the accident, Mike advised his department that he was ready to return to work. “They said that first I would have to pass the state functional capacity test at Point Pleasant,” Mike says.
This test would ultimately decide whether or not Mike could return to his job as a police officer. The test posed a particular challenge for Mike, as it was the exact test they give to non-disabled people.
No adaptations and no modifications.
But that was not the surprising part. The day Mike arrived, he discovered the test did not involve regular exercises like weight-lifting or squats. Rather, it would check his balance and strength using materials like ropes and disks.
“I was pulling ropes through the floor as hard as I could while trying to maintain my balance,” Mike says. “Since it wasn’t the way I had been training, I had no idea if I met the requirements.”
When the test was over, Mike asked the interviewer if he thought he did well. “Sir, you’re going to have to wait a week for the results,” the interviewer said without a hint.
“I felt I did well,” Mike says. “but it was hard because I thought this was the day I was going to find out where my future lies. Instead, I left with questions.”
A Week Later, The Results Came In…
Mike passed every single test they had thrown at him that day. Which meant Mike had achieved what many thought impossible: he returned to work as a full duty Police Officer without a single day of transitional duty.
“I’m 100% now,” Mike says. “And to be honest, it’s all thanks to Jim, Eric, and Allcare.”
Fast-forward to today: Mike is currently the president of his K-9 Academy class and set to graduate in February of 2022. This will make him the first amputee K-9 officer in the area, possibly in the entire state.
“I want to continue opening doors for others like me,” Mike says. “To help people return to whatever it is they want to return to. To get the confidence they need to keep going forward.”
By breaking down barriers in his own life, Mike hopes other amputees will find the motivation to push themselves further. To achieve things others might consider impossible.
Mike’s Larger Purpose & Vision for the Future
Today, Mike’s greatest mission is to help other amputees realize their capabilities, and in turn, help the world see that being disabled does not mean being limited.
Mike has 15 years left before he retires from the police force. Following retirement, Mike will continue to dedicate his life to advocating for amputees— as individuals and as a community — to keep opening the doors of opportunity for those living with disabilities.
“I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to even still be here. And I think it’s for a reason,” Mike says. “Before, I thought my purpose was to serve and protect the community. And now, I know I have a much larger purpose. To help a much larger group of people. That is my path.”