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A winter sports outing in the Lower 48 ended in a life-changing accident for a Seward-born soldier in the United State Marine Corps earlier this year, leaving Lance Corporal Nick Woodard, 19, without the use of his legs and limited mobility in his arms.

Now friends, family and residents in Woodard’s home town are chipping in to support Woodard in his recovery, including a benefit wildlife tour to be held by a local tour company in late May.

On the evening of Feb. 2, the vehicle carrying Nick and four others slid off a cliff near the group’s vacation rental, said Woodard’s mother Andra Woodard. The car fell twenty feet, landing on its roof.

“The pickup that was going to go ahead of them – all of his buddies were in that truck,” Andra Woodard said. “So when they didn’t see the car, they stopped to see what happened. That’s when they saw the car.”

Nick told his fellows not to remove him from the vehicle, his mother said, because he could tell from the lack of feeling in his limbs that he had a serious spinal injury. A rescue crew cut him out of the car an hour and a half later, and he was later transported to a hospital in Johnson City, Tenn.

The accident broke vertebrae in Nick’s neck, seriously jeopardizing his future mobility. He was initially unable to lift his arms, when his parents Andra and Morgan visited him at the hospital in Johnson City. He has since recovered some movement in his arms.

“He has full movement of his biceps, his forearms, his wrists,” Andra said. “But what they’ve been saying is he probably will never use his fingers again and he probably will never walk again.”

The family remains hopeful, however, and continues to pray for further recovery.

“We’re a Christian family, and our faith is everything to us,” she added. “We’re not giving up just yet, and neither is Nick.”

The group that day consisted of other members of Nick’s flight crew from the Marine Heavy Helicopter Training Squadron 302, based in Jacksonville, N.C. The squadron provides training for the Marine pilots of the CH-53E Super Stallion, a heavy-lift cargo helicopter used principally by the Marine Corps.

Lance Corporal Woodard served as a flight line mechanic in that unit, the mascot of which is the phoenix. The symbolism of the phoenix “has been a huge thing for Nick,” his mother said.

“His ultimate goal was to become a pilot, he wanted to work on the machines that he flew,” said Andra. “Obviously things have kind of changed and shifted, but he’s not given up on flying. He’s been obsessed with airplanes and things in the air since he was three.”

Still in recovery at Shepherd Center in Atlanta, Ga., Woodard will be the beneficiary of a fundraising cruise hosted by Major Marine Tours from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on May 23, the proceeds of which will be donated in their entirety to the Woodard family.

Tickets for the four-hour wildlife cruise cost $100 each and are available at the Harbor 360 Hotel and the Seward and Bear Creek fire departments, cash only. 

“The Woodards, they give up their free time to help the city of Seward by being on the fire department, and their son, he’s a Marine, and he opted to devote his life to that,” said Major Marine Tours’ Colby Lawrence. “That’s just something that we respect.”

The money raised will help the Woodards adapt their home.

“We will be using the funds to help us with modifying our home,” Andra Woodard said.  “Once Nick is able to discharge to outpatient he will come here, come back home. He’ll be here for about a year or so. Once he becomes fully independent, then he’s going to continue on with his  life.”

“In the meantime, we want to have a home that he can come back to.”