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Trauma survivor shows off physical feats in Vinoy Park to chase away addiction

ST. PETERSBURG

Chad Marsh wraps a wooden bracelet of Catholic saints in his callused hands. One at a time, he holds each saint between his thumb and index finger and whispers a short prayer. After the 12th, he kisses the bracelet, crosses himself and places it on the post of a pullup bar in Vinoy Park.

Marsh, 35, grips the bar, swings into a handstand and holds it.

A construction worker pauses to watch. So does a pudgy, middle-aged white man in white shorts, white sneakers and a white polo. He is walking his dog and holding a large Starbucks cup.

Marsh turns a full circle on the bar, lets go, flies into a flip and lands on the beach sand solidly.

"Whoa, brah! That is tight!" the construction worker calls out.

The middle-aged man chimes in, "I can do that … maybe later," and then a laugh.

"Just find the thing you love doing and do it, bud," Marsh smiles back. "Find yourself a happy day today."

Marsh is finding his on the pullup bars. He openly shows off. He holds onto the post of the bar and hoists his body parallel to the ground, flexes and freezes, a human flag. It is the trick he saw on a YouTube video one depressing day in 2013 when he was trying to kick painkillers.

In 2006, just 10 days before the former Marine was scheduled to deploy to Iraq, he was the best man in a wedding outside of Chicago. He and his friends got drunk. He remembers hood surfing on his buddy's car on a country road. He doesn't remember trying to jump from one hood to another, or what happened next.

"I wake up in the hospital after a coma that's went by for three or four weeks. I had to learn to walk and talk, read all over again, write all over again," he said, "but I would never take it back. Never. Even at the worst times of feeling depressed, suicidal, not wanting to be here. Going through all that, I'm glad I did it, because if I didn't do that I would not be as strong as I am now, there's no way. It was the biggest accomplishment of my life."

A jagged, basketball-sized scar surrounds the left side of his skull, which indents where the bone was removed. His addiction to painkillers lasted for years after the physical struggles. In a Fort Lauderdale rehab center, a woman graduating from the program gave him the bracelet. She told him she could tell he didn't want to be there. The bracelet helped her. She hoped it would help him.

He still wakes up every day with pain. He says two fathers' voices battle in his head.

His Heavenly Father is quiet, peaceful. Also jealous, vengeful and sometimes cruel. That Father's two large hands are tattooed on Marsh's back, holding a man on a pullup bar draped in the American flag.

Most days, though, the first voice Marsh hears is a different father's voice: his addiction.

You can take a few weeks of pills. You're stronger than anything that's been thrown at you yet. You don't have to worry about it, you can take 'em.

The Heavenly Father's voice breaks his silence.

Boy, I will smack you down.

"If you had two dads, and you started taking advice from the dad who wasn't your real dad, what do you think he would do?" Marsh explains. "He would be jealous and punish you. That's how God is, and believe me. I know."

So Marsh limps out of bed and follows a daily routine. He walks his dog to the corner store, buys a large coffee and a single-dose aspirin packet. He swallows the aspirin on the drive to Vinoy Park and tosses the packet on a stack of other empty wrappers on the passenger seat.

He stretches, counts the saints, quiets the voice, places the bracelet on the pullup bar and begins to look for another good day.

Chad Marsh, 35, performs a “human flag” in downtown St. Petersburg as part of his daily street workout, a trick he learned while trying to kick a painkiller addiction.

JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times

Chad Marsh, 35, performs a “human flag” in downtown St. Petersburg as part of his daily street workout, a trick he learned while trying to kick a painkiller addiction.

About the series

Pursuit of Happiness is a photographic column centered on people in Florida trying to overcome a challenge and find their contentment. To comment or suggest an idea for a story, contact John Pendygraft at pendygraft@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8247.

Trauma survivor shows off physical feats in Vinoy Park to chase away addiction 05/07/16 [Last modified: Saturday, May 7, 2016 10:01pm]
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