Lieutenant Colonel (Ret) Kathy Champion has been there and done that. In nearly 28 years in the Army, Kathy acted as a paramedic, commanded a Civil Affairs unit and helped to rebuild West Baghdad. She survived seven explosions, countless sandstorms and harsh living environments. When she returned home, Kathy began fighting another battle, one against Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Determined to reintegrate back into her life and daily activities, she rallied against it. A marathon runner, Kathy participated in the “Hood to Coast” race, but afterward she didn’t recover normally. It was then she got news she never expected, she learned she had contracted a virus while in Iraq and it was now affecting her optic nerve, plunging her irrevocably into blindness.
Kathy isolated herself from friends and family and rarely left the house. Thankfully though, friends decided one day that Kathy was going to get out whether she liked it or not. They gathered her up to go shark tooth hunting in Venice. On the way down, they spotted a sign for an Open House at Southeastern Guide Dogs and, despite Kathy’s protest, they came on campus. Kathy met with the trainers and did a test walk with a guide dog. Still unsure if it was right for her, Kathy completed the application process and in April of 2009 she started training.
Kathy was matched with a lively goldador (Labrador/golden retriever cross) named Angel; coincidently, the same name she called her children. Angel’s boundless energy boosted Kathy’s spirits. The training was tough and a number of times she wanted to quit, but coaxing from friends and the trainers kept her pushing forward.
Since graduating from Southeastern Guide Dogs, Kathy and Angel have been inseparable. They’ve have visited Space Camp at NASA, the Grand Canyon, watched a space shuttle launch, negotiated the busy streets of New York City, and even toured the studio of NBC Nightly News and met with Brian Williams.
With Angel’s support, Kathy has regained her independence and is now working to “pay it forward” for other wounded warriors. Kathy tirelessly fundraises for the program that gave her Angel - Southeastern’s Paws for Patriots™. This program pairs visually impaired veterans with guide dogs, Veteran Assistance Dogs with soldiers living with PTSD and facility therapy dogs at military medical facilities to provide support and encouragement.
Kathy has been instrumental in putting together a number of fundraisers including a bike rally in conjunction with the Harley Owner’s Group and she even heads up a team of women to lace up their running shoes and participate in the Women’s Half Marathon every November. Kathy was recently honored for her efforts on behalf of wounded warriors by Bob Woodruff’s ReMind Foundation.
Kathy credits Angel with lifting her out of the darkness into which she was falling and can’t imagine life without her. If Angel’s wagging tail and smiling face is any indication, she too, can’t imagine being apart from Kathy.