31-year-old amputee nears end of basic law enforcement training

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 26, 2012

By Shavonne Potts
As a kid, Fred West played cops and robbers with his brother John, but neither wanted to be the robber. That sentiment never changed, even when Fred lost his left leg below the knee following a work accident.
Today the 31-year-old Rockwell resident is in the final stages of basic law enforcement training.
In March 2000, after only the second day working at Food Lion’s warehouse, West was struck with a standing forklift. His left foot was crushed.
“The doctor told me I could keep my leg, but I would have to have a lot of surgeries for a lot of years and I would have to walk with a cane,” West said.
His doctor gave him another option — amputation.
On April 6, 2000, his leg was amputated 6 inches below the knee. West now uses two prosthetics — one made for running and the other for everything else.
The doctor assured West he’d be walking in six to eight weeks. He had a medical setback but still was walking soon after his amputation surgery.
Having his leg surgically removed wasn’t a hard decision, said the father of three, because he was in a lot of pain.
But for the first two years, he grappled with his decision until he began talking with people who’d taken a similar course of action.
He realized he’d made the right choice.
“It made me put the important things first,” West said of how his life changed.
He was working nights at Food Lion and taking classes during the day to complete his GED, and then it would be on to the Air Force and later law enforcement.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, West spoke with an Air Force recruiter but was not accepted because of his amputation.
“I thought both of my dreams had died, being in the Air Force and in law enforcement,” West said.
While watching the television show COPS, West saw a Florida deputy chasing a suspect. The deputy was an amputee. West began researching amputees in law enforcement.
He discovered a High Point Police detective who is a double amputee.
“I figured if they could do it, I could do it and just stop making excuses,” he said.
The last time he ran was 11 years ago, right after his amputation surgery. He became “overzealous” in running and damaged nerves in his legs. In order for his leg to heal, West had to not wear his prosthesis for six weeks.
He stopped running altogether.
“I was scared to run,” he said.
When he began running after more than a decade, it was very painful.
He began exercising at the East Rowan YMCA with the help of two friends.
He changed his diet and dropped 40 pounds.
His family, which includes his wife Tara, two children, Cody, 8, McKenna, 6, is very supportive. His wife is expecting the couple’s third child.
West attended class, never telling his fellow students he was an amputee until they went on their first run.
A day after physical training, West addressed the class.
He told them he wanted them to get to know him.
“I said, ‘I didn’t ask for any kind of special consideration. Whatever y’all do I’m willing to do. If I can’t, then good luck to y’all and I’ll be gone. I just want a chance.’ ”
Students voted West to be the class spokesman during the June 14 graduation.
“It’s been an inspiration to work beside him,” said Steven Hopkins.
Hopkins, who is also in basic law enforcement training, said he didn’t know West was missing a limb at first.
“It didn’t slow him down one bit. He really pushes himself,” Hopkins said.
West began the program alongside 24 others in February.
West said he felt as if the other men and women in the class respected him.
Spencer Rummage, director of Law Enforcement Training at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, first met West in October when West expressed interest in joining basic law enforcement training.
Rummage had received a phone call from Rockwell Police Chief Hugh Bost, who was sponsoring West, and inquired about whether West would be able to participate in the program. Each student must either be sponsored by a law enforcement agency or be employed by an agency.
Rummage told West if his doctor approved him and he met the state standards for an officer, then he was “comfortable giving him a chance just like everybody else.”
Rummage and training coordinators Tony Clark and Ken Woodard were blown away by West and were rooting for his successful finish.
“He’s got the right attitude,” Clark said.
Rummage said West is the only amputee that he can recall entering the program.
“It was very important to me that I did everything everybody else did, to complete the program without any special requests,” West said.
West said he shared his story not for any reason other than the hope it would inspire someone else.
There are many soldiers returning home from war who have lost limbs.
“I’ve had people inspire me, and maybe I can inspire them,” he said.
Friday was the last day of the class. West and the other students will take their state exam on June 8.
“I haven’t found anything that I couldn’t do,” he said.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.