By MeLinda Schnyder - Photography by Aaron Patton
Matt Amos remembers laying is a hospital bed at the Naval Medical Center San Diego recovering from a traumatic amputation of parts of both legs and not wondering how he would walk again but how he would get back to hunting.
“Being from Kansas, being outdoors was a big part of my life,” the Andale native said. “I love hunting, fishing, anything outdoors.”
The answer for the Marine Corps Sergeant came nine months after a June 2011 improvised explosive device blast in Afghanistan that led to a below the knee amputation of his left leg and above the knee amputation of his right.
Volunteers with Wounded Warrior Outdoors invited Amos to a bear hunt in British Columbia. When he went on the trip in spring 2012, he was still working through physical therapy and having a tough time transitioning from using a wheelchair to using prosthetic legs. He had both with him on the trip, but the legs were uncomfortable and he wasn’t confident using them.
Sometimes on a bear hunt, Amos said, you’ll see only one animal on the entire trip so chances can’t be wasted. When the first bear appeared in a field, the volunteer guides hauled out Amos’ wheelchair and he tried to navigate the rocky terrain. The noise scared off the bear.
A few days later, Amos saw a second bear. With encouragement from the volunteers, he forced himself to stay on his legs while crossing rocks and grass to set up at a boulder and take down his first bear.
“That was when the light bulb clicked on for me,” Amos said. “I could do it. They pushed me to the limit and showed me what I was capable of.”
He came home with a different mindset. If he could succeed on mountainous and uneven terrain, he could succeed at home on sidewalks and even terrain. And, importantly, he could still do the things that made him happy before the injury.
It wasn’t easy, though. Despite staying in shape and working hard during two years of physical therapy, he struggled with using the legs for the first three years and mostly walked using canes.
Amos had returned to the Wichita area after a 10-year career and medical retirement from the Marines in 2013. In 2014, he met Steve Peeples, an orthotist and prosthetist who owns Peeples Prosthetics in Wichita. Because Peeples makes its sockets in house, they were able to refine Amos’ until he could walk comfortably on his prosthetic legs.
“I was amazed at what I was able to do with Peeples’ help, and I know so many people in my situation,” Amos said.
He believed so strongly in what Peeples was doing to help amputees live with their injuries that he joined the company in 2015 in a newly created position of director of patient relations.
He also has become one of the lead volunteers with Wounded Warrior Outdoors, the non-profit organization that sparked his return to hunting. He helps organize about 10 therapeutic outdoor adventures across North America each year for six to eight wounded servicemen and women at a time. The group is run completely by volunteers and through donations, and he said he plans to remain actively involved to ensure the group succeeds for years to come.
He launched an offshoot of the organization, Adventures Enabled, an online series that shows the stories of those who take Wounded Warrior Outdoors trips. The purpose is two-fold he said: he wants to motivate and inspire wounded warriors who are staying at home instead of being out living their lives and he wants insurgents to see that American troops are succeeding and doing great things even with physical challenges.
Amos has produced three episodes that can be viewed at www.adventuresenabled.tv and has another three in production. He’s looking for more sponsors to keep the project going.
In addition to his volunteer work and his full-time job at Peeples, Amos is feeding his entrepreneurial side with two business ventures. As his first job as a civilian, he launched a beard oil company in 2014 out of necessity. Finally out from under the military guidelines, he’d grown out a beard and couldn’t find an oil that wasn’t too harsh on his skin. He developed his own recipes using just the right ratio of all-natural essential and base oils and started selling a line called Admiral’s Pennant.
The name is inspired by a descriptive term for an impressive beard used by U.S. Navy sailor in Herman Melville’s book “White Jacket.” The names of each oil are based on significant dates in American history. For example, 1783 is a blend of sandalwood, cedar and tea tree that commemorates the end of the American Revolution.
Amos and his wife, Audrie, make the oils out of their home. Amos also has developed a formula for a handmade soap using Kansas wheat beer, and he’s still working on perfecting the texture for a balm he’d like to add to the line. The oils and soaps can be purchased at admiralspennant.com as well as many barber shops across the state. They are also sold in other states, often in barber shops owned by fellow veterans.
One of the shops he sold to locally came up for sale in 2015 so he and friend John Jenkins purchased it. Weiss Barber Supply has been in business since 1952 and is the only dedicated men’s grooming and barber supply store in Wichita. It offers local barbers professional pricing on supplies and also sells high-end grooming products to the general public from its storefront at 1018 W. Maple. It’s also the only place in Wichita that offers shear sharpening and clipper repair services, Amos said.
The key to all of his “jobs” is that they afford flexibility for his frequent travel with Wounded Warrior Outdoors, the project that got him back on his feet, literally. He sees Wichita becoming a hub, of sorts, for helping wounded warriors – from the work Peeples Prosthetics is doing for patients around the country to including snippets of Wichita in the shows he produces for Adventures Enabled.
When asked how he has time for all of his ventures he said, “I’m blessed to be alive. There are many of my brothers who didn’t make it home. It’s my duty to honor their sacrifice by waking up and doing the best I can do every single day.”