Santa Rosa Beach retired Navy diver aims to make 2028 Paralympics

Faces Paralympic Athlete
Published: Feb. 9, 2023 at 8:56 PM CST
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SANTA ROSA BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - In a quiet part of Santa Rosa Beach, Julius McManus was spending his afternoon getting ready for another fly-tying class at his house.

“Recover through fly fishing and fly tying through fellowship,” McManus said.

It’s part of Semper Fi & America’s Fund, a non-profit that puts on programs supporting and connecting wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans all across the country.

This time, Julius was tying a Zebra Midge. A perfect fly pattern for fishing in still water.

However, fly tying is just a side hobby. You can usually find Julius on the back porch training for gold.

”I have set the goal to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic team for the 2028 season.”

Julius is a former Navy diver. He’s now wheelchair bound, but that’s not stopping him from his passions. Racing in marathons and triathlons all across the country.

“Through team Semper Fi’s assistance, I have gone from running a 9-minute mile to running sub 5-minute miles in a racing wheelchair.”

He’s training to make the 2028 U.S. Paralympic Triathlon Team. However, triathlons are just the beginning. He also plays wheelchair basketball, competes in track and field and even plays rugby.

“Starting out with the wheelchair racing and then moving into hand cycling and now moving into triathlon, it has just been huge in my recovery. It helps me become the person I was before.”

But the path to his old self has been winding, with its fair share of bumps in the road.

“The issue with the left knee all started from a stingray barb.”

In the middle of his 22-year Naval career, Julius went for a dive in Panama City Beach in 2010.

“I was less than five feet from the shore when I stepped off the nose of a surfboard and stepped on a stingray.”

He went in for surgery, but they missed part of the barb in the x-ray. So, it stayed in his knee for four months.

”The wound itself wouldn’t heal, there was so much just bad, dead tissue and just infection.”

After years of knee issues and six surgeries, in 2017, his road hit the darkest stretch.

”It was a gut bunch. I lost my dad earlier in the year in 2017 and the docs told me my career was over. It was tough. I hit a bad depression and anxiety. I lost my identity. I lost my purpose in life.”

He was told his military career was over, and that his injury would continue to get worse. He also struggled with spinal degradation and traumatic brain injuries from blast exposure and deep diving. And at an adaptive sports competition in 2018, he thought his road was about to end.

”I had no intention of coming back. My intent was to go and go for a long swim and make it look like an accident to minimize the impact on my family. Because I didn’t want to be a burden on anybody. I didn’t know where I was going to go. To me in that moment, I didn’t have a future.”

But he kept on his path, and because of adaptive sports, his road is getting brighter.

”It gave me a purpose, it gave me a community. It saved my life. It really did.”

Now he’s competing in the DOD Warrior Games, the Marine Corps Marathon, the Invictus Games and numerous competitions across the U.S.

“Through the adaptive sports program, it gave me purpose, it helped me to find a way to move forward. Staying active helps with depression so much.”

And no matter how dark your road gets, there’s always hope.

”If you think you’re at your bottom, there’s somebody there to help you. There’s a way forward. Never give up. Never give in.”

Because with some help and a fighting spirit, who knows where your journey will end up.

”I have gone from somebody who used to run triathlons to aspiring to make the team for the 2028 Paralympics.”

But it’s an expensive endeavor. If you add up Julius’ rugby chair and three of his hand cycles, the cost is around $55,000. If you would like to donate, click here.