NEW YORK - The competitors aren’t the only stars at the U.S. Open. There’s a young American soldier on the sidelines with a remarkable story of his own to tell.
Ryan McIntosh, 23, is an athlete who lives to compete.
“I don’t want to be second place,” he said, “I want to be first.”
Soldier who lost leg works as US Open ballperson
Shark attack survivor wins bronze at Paralympics
“Spare Parts London” sees old prosthetics turned into art
The former high school star is trying something very different these days: ball boy at the U.S. Open.
“It’s going to be a long day,” McIntosh remarked at a recent practice.
Not nearly as long as Dec. 8, 2010. Then, as an army specialist in Afghanistan, everything changed.
“The next thing I do remember was waking up 10 feet in the air with dust everywhere. I couldn’t see anything; my ears were ringing,” he recalled.
McIntosh had stepped on a land mine while on patrol near Kandahar. His right foot was blown off, but he says he was lucky.
“Yeah, there was a 40-pound jug of homemade explosives underneath the landmine that I stepped on; it didn’t get triggered,” he said. If it had, he wouldn’t be here today.
His right leg was amputated. Yet just 6 weeks later, McIntosh was walking with the help of a carbon fiber prosthetic and driven by a new goal.
“Knowing that my son was about to be born, my recovery was based on wanting to be by his side and him not know me as being any different as a dad,” McIntosh said.
He is still in the army, helping other disabled veterans. Chasing tennis balls at a grand slam event, he thought, might be inspiring - so he auditioned.
“They asked me, ‘Can you throw a tennis ball?’ and I said “Well, I think I can throw a tennis ball, I’ve thrown hand grenades,’” the army specialist said.
Chatting with Andy Roddick, McIntosh said, has been the highlight of his tournament. But McIntosh prefers to avoid the spotlight. He’s slightly embarrassed by all the attention he’s received.
“Just because I’ve been to war and I lost my leg doesn’t mean it changes who I am,” he said. “If I have to deal with something difficult, I’m going to look it straight in the eye and say, ‘you are not gonna beat me.’”
McIntosh is gearing up for the 2016 Paralympics in Brazil. His opponents have been served notice.