Pat Tillman Foundation can’t fulfill its mission to empower military veterans and their spouses without the generosity of our supporters across the country. Nationwide, nearly 350 Tillman Scholars are striving to impact our country and communities through their studies in medicine, law, business, policy, technology, education and the arts. Every “Tillman Tuesday,” we are committed to highlighting the individual impact of a Tillman Scholar, focusing on their success in school, career and community—all thanks to your support.
In the first edition of Tillman Tuesday for 2015, we had a chance to catch up with 2012 Tillman Scholar, U.S. Air Force Captain Ed Woodward, who is currently attending medical school at University of South Florida (USF). With six months of med school under his belt, while staying actively involved as a leader in his school, a husband and a parent to his two young children, Ed is making the most of his opportunity as a Tillman Scholar and embracing every opportunity that comes his way.
Do you remember the moment you were first notified you had been selected as a Tillman Scholar?
“I do remember. It was overwhelming. I remember Hunter Riley, Cara Campbell and Dr. Braue were on the call. Knowing Pat’s story and about the foundation through other Tillman Scholars at USF, I knew what it meant to be a Tillman Scholar already so I knew I wanted to be part of the foundation so badly.
As a Tillman Scholar, I knew it was going to give me the opportunity for hope. The Tillman Scholars are held in such high regard at USF so I knew it would also open many doors for me. Being selected as a Tillman Scholar made me realize I wasn’t as broken as I felt and gave me the hope and courage I needed. I knew being a Tillman Scholar was something I wanted to be part of.”
What does the honor of being a Tillman Scholar mean to you?
“When I was selected my mindset immediately went to, ‘how do I now live up to this group of people I am now associated with?’ Being selected as a Tillman Scholar gave me a sense of identity back and made me realize that I was still an Air Force officer and that I wanted to live up to those aspirations. Without my wife Manda I know I would not have made it through that process.”
Note: In 2000, Ed’s twin brother Gene was tragically killed by a drunk driver after completing his first year of medical school. After distinguished tours for Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, in 2006 Ed suffered a severe traumatic brain injury during a training mission, forcing him into early retirement when he was only five flights away from becoming an F-15 pilot. During his difficult recovery process, Ed was forced to confront personal setbacks and as a result, made the decision to keep his brother’s dream of becoming a doctor alive by pursing a medical degree himself and is currently in his first year of medical school at University of South Florida.
Having been in medical school for five months now, what has been the best part thus far?
“Definitely the clinical rotations I do with an oncologist because I actually get to apply the stuff I’m learning within the day of learning it. With the oncologist’s diverse patients, I have the opportunity to see a variety of cases, learning so much.”
On the flip side, what has been the most challenging part of being a med student?
“The most challenging part is studying when my kids, Tylor (7) and Kayla (13 months), want me to be there with them. If I have a test to study for I don’t take my son to soccer practice but if I’m not studying, I’m there with him. The hardest part is that my little girl doesn’t understand and she’ll just come bang on the door yelling, ‘daddy, daddy…’ Missing family time is definitely the toughest part.”
What special recognitions, awards or extra-curricular activities have you been involved in while attending med school?
“I was selected as President of my medical school class. I also recently graduated from Leadership St. Pete (a civil leadership experience through the Chamber of Commerce where young leaders are identified within the community who intend to become more involved). St. Pete is the second oldest civil leadership experience in the country and is a six-month process where we go through the St. Pete of our community.”
Ed was selected as Chairman of the Leadership St. Pete project, raising $50,000, coupled with 2,000 man hours in order to renovate St. Vincent DePaul for area homeless families with children. Additionally, Ed also volunteers his time to help serve meals to the homeless.
As a Tillman Scholar, do you feel in a sense you’ve been given “new life” to take a path that you did not intend to, but now have the opportunity to make a difference?
“I sometimes have a different approach. Getting over and dealing with things that aren’t going to change my migraines or past experiences. Having the honor of being a Tillman Scholar changed my outlook because I don’t feel like I’m any different than any other veteran that served. It’s still amazing to me that I have the opportunity that I do (representing the foundation as a Tillman Scholar). I didn’t have a choice with the events that happened to me or the outcome of those events but I have the choice with this opportunity. “
Every year thousands of veterans and their spouses apply to be a Tillman Scholar. Given everything you have been through, how grateful are you to have been selected?
“Sometimes I sit and realize I’ve been through a lot, but other times I think of the opportunities and the courage I have to embrace these opportunities. Being a Tillman Scholar opened the world up for me because of the foundation and people gravitating towards Pat’s story. People love to read about some of our nation’s heroes who have done heroic stuff throughout their careers and sometimes I feel like those ‘heroes’ deserve more recognition than someone like me who has had a lot of stuff happen to me.”
In 2012, you started running and ran your first marathon because you wanted to prove to yourself that you were still capable of achieving goals you set for yourself. Since then you’ve played an active role in Team Tillman, running the Chicago and NYC Marathons in 2014 and recently completing the 48.6 mile Dopey Challenge at Disney World. Does your marathon running serve more of a purpose with being able to be part of Team Tillman while raising support and awareness for the Pat Tillman Foundation?
“It absolutely does. It’s my way of giving back to the foundation. Right now I can’t donate money for other scholars, but I can donate my time training to run a marathon and give money back to the foundation through fundraising and encouraging others to give.”
You recently had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit down with NBC Sports journalist Josh Elliott for an interview for the Super Bowl pregame show. What was that experience like for you, being able to not only share your story but share your story as a Tillman Scholar coupled with what the foundation has done for you and continues to do?
“It was humbling because I don’t know why they chose me. It was also a feeling of deep responsibility in being a great representation of all Tillman Scholars while having an extreme positive outlook and what the foundation’s purpose is. I want my fellow scholars to feel like I did a good job representing them. It was awesome that I got to tell my story but I hope in doing so it will highlight the other interesting scholars, which will in turn generate more interest for the Pat Tillman Foundation itself.”
As a Tillman Scholar, you had the great opportunity to participate in some of the events surrounding Super Bowl 49 and just be in Arizona around all of the excitement. Did you ever think five years ago you would have overcome all that you did – become a med student, a Tillman Scholar, marathon runner and featured on the pregame TV show prior to kick-off to the most watched sporting event in the world?
“No way man! I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was an amazing opportunity to be part of everything. My wife and I rarely get away alone and this was the first time we got to do something like this. These are the things I knew I was going to be part of when I was selected as a Tillman scholar so just being around the excitement was awesome! My main thought throughout the various events surrounding the Super Bowl was being a good representative for the Pat Tillman Foundation. I feel like this was an opportunity that could be such a significant event for the future of the foundation as a whole and I wanted to make sure I conducted myself in a positive and impactful manner.
As far as the game goes, I’m a true fan of Russell Wilson because he’s kind of like me where everyone told him he’s too short or not big enough or fast enough to play in the NFL. Regardless of the game, to be in the same city where Pat played his NFL career, a hero that I’m representing every day, was a humbling experience in itself.”
How was the experience being part of the Super Bowl festivities, events and excitement like for you?
“Amazing! You kidding me?! There were so many amazing events that are for non-football players so it’s hard to pick just one. I did get to meet Jay Crawford who is a great guy that I had a mutual connection to through his minor league baseball days. I also really liked the opportunity I had to meet Ron Jaworski. Just like he appears to be on TV, Jaws is a really down-to-earth and very genuine guy.
How surprised were you when you were live with Al Roker on the Today Show and Jay Feely walks out and presents you with unexpected tickets to the game live on national television?
“When we were in the green room getting ready for the Today show we both ran into each other getting coffee at the same time and I knew right away who he was. I had just enough time to let him know I was a big fan before a producer whisked him away and I thought, ‘I would really like a picture with him at some point.’ When we were live on air, as soon as I saw Jay Feely walk up to us my intuition told me, ‘this is going to be good!’”
If you could sum up the experience being at the game in a few sentences what would you say? What was the best part of being inside the stadium?
“The most awesome part about it was sharing the whole experience with fellow Tillman Scholars. Reality that we were there set in before the game when we were walking around the stadium. At random points in time someone would just say, ‘dude, we’re at the Super Bowl!’ It was crazy to think that we were actually at the game. Definitely an experience I will never forget.”