Stefan LeRoy returned home to Santa Rosa this week, fresh from a seven-day vacation in the Virgin Islands, kayaking and snorkeling in clear water over coral reefs.
Like most tropical tourists, LeRoy, a 21-year-old Army specialist, got plenty of sun during his trip.
"I have weird tan lines," said LeRoy, a slender man with close-cropped dark brown hair and an affable manner.
Without any inhibition, LeRoy lifted the stump of his left leg to display the irregular tan that formed between the bottom of his shorts and the top of the liner that cushions one of his two prosthetic legs.
LeRoy, a Santa Rosa native and a 2009 graduate from Maria Carrillo High School, lost both legs after stepping on a buried bomb June 7 in Afghanistan's Kandahar province, becoming one of the more than 1,570 service members to lose an arm or leg in Iraq and Afghanistan.
After six months at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., LeRoy is back in Sonoma County for the first time since last Christmas.
The week-long visit has been a whirlwind of reunions with family and friends. On Wednesday, the former Eagle Scout met with Boy Scouts from Troop 32, where he shared his plans to go skiing next month in Breckenridge, Colo. — seated on a monoski. Further ahead, he contemplates competing in the 2016 Paralympic Games at Rio de Janeiro.
"You can't look at now. You have to look to the future," LeRoy replied when asked how he maintains such a positive attitude.
For now, LeRoy mostly gets about in a wheelchair. He will return to Walter Reed next week and faces up to a year of rehabilitation before he can walk, all-day long and unassisted, as well as run on his titanium and carbon fiber legs.
"I sway a little bit in the hips," LeRoy said, describing his imperfect gait. He typically uses a cane, but he can surmount stairs and escalators.
He is delighted to be back home for the Thanksgiving holiday. On Thursday, LeRoy went with his parents to share turkey dinner with his father's family in Fremont and then again with his mother's family on Friday in Sebastopol.
As a reminder of what he's thankful for, LeRoy said he merely needs to hold both hands in front of his face. He appreciates what he has, rather than bemoan what war took away from him.
At Walter Reed, where about 200 service members are currently rehabbing, amputees are referred to as singles, doubles, triples and quads, based on the number of missing limbs.
LeRoy, technically classified as an "AK/BK" — his left leg amputated above the knee and right leg below the knee — counts himself fortunate to have one knee and two hands.
"In perspective, I'm not that bad off," he said, sitting at a table in his parents' Rincon Valley home. "I know I can work through the (missing) legs."
In the Virgin Islands, he swam with the fish and sea turtles with webbed flippers on his hands. He's already competed in marathon and half-marathon events on a hand-powered cycle, and if he takes up running it would be on carbon fiber legs like those used by Olympian Oscar Pistorius, the "blade runner."
Still, his mastery of the prosthetic legs has been delayed by a lingering wound on the bottom of his right leg, and LeRoy takes painkillers every day.