That's what happened to Sean Halsted one day when he fell 40 feet to the ground while fast-roping from a helicopter during a training mission at Hurlburt Field, Fla.
"I don't remember what happened," said Halsted, a former combat controller who was stationed at then-McChord Air Force Base, Wash. "I just know one minute I was reaching for the rope, and the next I was on the ground with my back hurting and the guys are telling me to lay still."
Halsted damaged his spinal cord and became a paraplegic as a result of the accident.
"When I got hurt it was like, life is over. Good thing there's the Internet; good thing there's DVD players," Halsted said. "I'll just be sitting in my room passing the time and looking on the Internet. I found out that's not the case. Life goes on. Life is still there."
Halsted didn't give up. His recovery led him to compete as a U.S. Paralympian at the 2010 Vancouver Games.
The Department of Veterans Affairs staff helped Halsted realize he had access to programs to help him get back to living a fuller life.
"The VA is a great insurance company," he said. "We've got one of the best programs that help you out with anything that you've got."
The Washington State University graduate said his training as a combat controller helped him on his road to recovery.
"You can't accept sitting in your room," Halsted said. "It took me a while to get through that because I was stuck in my room. I couldn't do the level of stuff I used to do. The [military] training really did help me because my expectations were a lot higher."
Upon the urging of his physical therapist and the staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Halsted discovered a program that met his high physical expectations: the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic. He realized he had a passion for adaptive Nordic skiing.
"I went with cross country skiing because I like that endorphin rush and it's fun being out in the woods and it's fun being on the slopes," Halsted said. "I was an Alpine skier before. Racing Alpine just isn't my thing. I just wasn't getting that exertion that I used to get. For me it was just a natural fit to come to Nordic skiing. It just fit everything I wanted."
The training at the winter sports clinic prepared Halsted to compete at the next level.
"Without that exposure, I don't know that I would've tried," Halsted said. "I think it would've taken me a lot more to get out and start doing stuff. I would've just stuck with wheelchair basketball and I wouldn't have been happy."
At the 2010 Vancouver Paralympic Games, Halsted finished in the top 10 in all three of the events he participated in. He is not planning on slowing down anytime soon. Halsted aims to compete at the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
"I want to push it as far as I can," Halsted said. What does Halsted have to say to disabled veterans who haven't been to the NDVWSC?
"Get off your [butt] and get out here," he said. "There's a lot of [disabled veterans] who've got their couch potato tickets and they're punching them. Life is still going on; you have to live life."