First female amputee to return to duty, now paving the way for future pilots at USAFA

Published: Feb. 11, 2021 at 12:45 PM MST|Updated: Feb. 11, 2021 at 6:31 PM MST
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - A United States Air Force Academy graduate and the first woman amputee to return to flying duty is now heading back to where it all started to help future pilots.

Maj. Christy Wise lost her leg in a boating accident during a vacation.

“About five years ago I lost my leg in a boating accident on vacation. I just got back from deployment to Afghanistan and I almost lost my life and lost my leg on vacation,” said Wise.

She spent eight months in rehab relearning how to walk, run, and do other sports she was passionate about. Most importantly, she had to learn how to ski again, something that actually drew her to the academy in the first place. Before her accident, she was on the ski team, and after her accident, she knew she wanted to get back to a normal life.

“I started to feel like life was different when I stopped doing all the things I loved, so I’ve just tried to work my way back to most of them,” Wise added.

Following her accident, Wise also wanted to lend a hand to people in similar situations. That’s when “One Leg Up on Life” was born. It’s a non-profit Wise and her twin sister started to help provide prosthetics to amputees in Haiti. While working with those kids, Wise knew nothing would stop her from following her heart to get back into the air.

As she worked to get back into the air, she knew the end goal wouldn’t necessarily be an easy one to reach, but she set her heart to it and accomplished it anyway.

“I have to complete all the same check rides and emergency procedures, prove that I can get out of the aircraft quickly on the ground if there’s a fire or something, and then also passing my physical fitness test,” Wise explained.

While she completed those tests, she also learned a valuable lesson in the new life she was living.

“We’re not getting any different standards, but we’re capable of doing this,” said Wise.

Now, she’s teaching future pilots that anything is possible with a little hard work and dedication.

“I tell them it’ll take time. For me I know I’m like, ‘I’m going to get back in the plane in four months,’ and then all the other amputees are like, ‘Okay Christy, like no way.’”

Wise says she owes a lot of that strength of working toward achieving her goals to some of the other Air Force amputee pilots.

“We call it the ‘amputee pilot mafia’ and we joke that you have to lose an arm or a leg to join. Like, ‘Well, it’s gonna cost you an arm or a leg to join!’”

In 2016, Wise made her way back to the skies.

“Five other men did it before me, which is really cool. So, they kind of paved the way and helped me know the steps to get back to flying.”

Now, about four years later, the pilot is lending her knowledge and strength to the pilots to come after her.

“Through this community, we can succeed together.”

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