His legacy is a reminder to us all to be a better person and to always remember that the world is bigger than any single one of us.
Too often, we forget about our civic duties and get bogged down with the mundane details of life.
Tillman’s sense of civic duty and commitment to the greater cause is something we should all emulate in our day-to-day lives.
In a world where we are inundated with breaking sports news and force fed a steady diet of the latest “he said, she said” drama, it would be easy to entirely forget about Tillman’s story.
Thankfully, both ESPN and the NFL don’t let Tillman’s legacy fade into obscurity.
Last Wednesday, at ESPN’s annual ESPYS awards show, another athlete who gave up the sport he loved to join the military was honored with the Pat Tillman Service Award.
Josh Sweeney developed a passion for hockey at a young age despite growing up in fields of cacti and tumbleweeds in Phoenix.
He parlayed that passion into a successful prep career at Ironwood High School.
The self-titled “bruiser” could have tried his hand at playing collegiately, but he decided to join the Marines instead.
Three years later, after completing scout sniper training, he was deployed to Afghanistan.
His life changed in October of 2009 in the town of Nowzad.
While on a routine patrol, Sweeney stepped on an improvised explosive device, losing both legs and suffering injuries to his left hand and arm.
By November of that year, he was recovering at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland. And less than two years after that, he was transferred to the Center for the Intrepid in San Antonio.
During his rehab, he admits, he thought he would never play hockey again.
Then a friend took him to see the Rampage, a local sled hockey team in San Antonio.
He was back on the ice shortly thereafter, telling that same friend, with a glowing, ear-to-ear smile, “Yep. This is me.”
By March 2013, Sweeney was a forward and co-captain for the United States Sled Hockey Team and was preparing for the Sochi 2014 Paralympic Winter Games.
Sweeney was celebrated as an American hero upon his return from Afghanistan, receiving a Purple Heart for his sacrifice.
In March, he was celebrated as an American hero once again, but this time it was for helping Team USA do what had never been done before.
Sweeney, 27, scored the winning goal in the Americans’ 1-0 win over Russia in the gold-medal game, giving Team USA back-to-back Paralympic golds in sledge hockey, as it’s commonly known.
The U.S. became the first team to ever win two straight golds in sledge hockey.
“Being disabled, I never thought I’d be able to do something like this,” he said during an interview with ESPN earlier this year. “Getting a Purple Heart is great and all, but being able to go to the Paralympics and represent my country in a different way is better.
“Both of them mean a lot to me. But today, I can honestly say I wouldn’t change anything that’s happened to me in my life. If anything, I’m trying to help others see that just because you get hurt, just because something happens like what happened to me, it doesn’t mean you have to stop living. I feel like I’ve done more since I was injured than I ever did before.”
That sentiment and belief are a testament to the legacy Tillman left.
Thankfully, men like Sweeney are making sure that legacy isn’t forgotten.
Sweeney is living proof that, no matter what has happened or what you’ve lost, the true measure of a man is his heart, determination and willingness to sacrifice.
And that’s something that we would all be well-served to remember.