2018 Tillman Scholar

Zachary Rhyner

Air Force
University of North Carolina
B.S., Biology

“My injuries are merely an aspect of my identity, their limitations do not define me. I hope to enrich the lives of others afflicted by physical trauma.”

Inspired by a family history of service, Zachary enlisted in the United States Air Force in 2004. Following basic training, he embarked on an arduous two-and-a-half-year selection and training process to become a special operations Combat Controller (CCT). He was on his sixth deployment with a special mission unit when an enemy bullet shattered his femur and severed his sciatic nerve. Though he endeavored two years of physical therapy to regain full mission capability, his injuries were too severe to continue military service. He medically retired after 11 years of service. Encouraged by the exceptional treatment and progress he attained through physical therapy, Zac considered a new career. Ending his military chapter, he began a new life as a student enrolling in Sandhills Community College. Now a junior transfer at the The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Zac envisions becoming a Doctor of Physical Therapy.

The unique perspective Zac obtained as a rehabilitating patient makes him keenly aware of the physical and emotional tribulations faced by those suffering severe injuries. As a potential future health care provider, Zac will carry the same intensity and vigor that made him an effective special operator. He hopes to work within the special operations community to enrich the lives of wounded service members and enable further achievement following crisis. Though his injuries are not without limitations, Zac values his military service. He hopes his unique circumstance will help him to better relate and inspire those who are still in the fight.