Two friends use their life-changing stories to inspire and help others

Local News

CENTRE COUNTY, Pa. (WTAJ) — There are many things we can learn from Adam Hartswick and RJ Shirey like their strength, courage, and determination to never give up.

Twice a week Adam and RJ work out with their trainers at MBI fitness in State College

The two are both from Centre County and graduated from State College Area High School. They aren’t related, but they call themselves brothers. They’re bonded by their stories and their desire to help others.

In 2016, at just 15-years-old, RJ was forced to learn a new way of life after losing part of his leg during a freak hunting accident.

RJ in the hospital after his hunting accident

“When I went to go take the gun off my shoulder it caught my jacket and then it caught the trigger and it went off,” RJ explained. “I remember I could see the bone and the severed artery all the way to the other side of the floor of the truck. That’s when it was like okay this is pretty bad.”

RJ lost a tremendous amount of blood causing multiple organ dysfunction. He spent weeks in the hospital and eventually surgeons had to amputate. 

RJ while on the Penn State Ability Athletics Track and Field team

“I woke up without a leg and it was really interesting,” RJ said. “When people lose people they say it is like losing a part of yourself, but when you lose an actual part of yourself it is a little different.”

RJ, who is now 20-years-old, won’t tell you trying to understand his new routine was ever easy, but he will tell you he never dwelled on it. 

“Nothing is stopping me,” RJ, who became a national champion while on the Penn State Ability Athletics Track and Field team, said. “I’m not going to let it stop me.” 

He credits Adam Hartswick for helping motivate and guide him.

Adam & RJ on the first day they met

“We talked for hours and became like best buds,” RJ said. “I could relate to him and we talked about everything on the first day we met.”

RJ met Adam, an Army veteran, after a physical therapy session.

Almost everything Adam did in his childhood was to prepare himself for a career in the Army.

“I always knew I was going to join the Army,” Adam explained. “It was just a calling. My dad did it. Both my grandfathers fought in WWII.”

Sergeant Hartswick served as a combat medic in the Army

He graduated high school in 2009 and joined right away as a combat medic.

It was May 14, 2013 when his life would change forever.

“That was the worst day of my life,” he said.

Sergeant Hartswick was helping a platoon that was just ambushed in Afghanistan when he stepped on an improvised explosive device and lost both of his legs.

He immediately put on a tourniquet and told his friend to do the same.

“He said, ‘doc tell me what to do,’ and I said, ‘tourniquets high and tight,’ so he just grabbed the tourniquets,” Adam said.

Adam is a Purple Heart recipient

Sergeant Hartswick is a war hero, but you’ll never hear him talk of himself that way. His heroes are his fellow soldiers.

“The brotherhood, the comradery of being there and being part of that community means everything to me,” Adam said. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything even if I could have my legs again.”

Years later Adam is happily married to his wife Sara. She’s a big support system for him.

Adam & his wife Sara on their wedding day in 2020

He also now uses his story to teach others the importance of being prepared for tragic situations.

“As a responsible adult you need to learn how to at least control bleeding or stop bleeding,” he explained. “It is such a simple thing to put a tourniquet on a limb and it can save someone’s life, it will save someone’s life.”

This is a passion Adam has also given to RJ who teaches the same lessons and just recently became a certified EMT.

“What a lot of people don’t understand is it literally takes 30 seconds and you can save somebody’s life,” RJ explained.

Adam & RJ are both Centre County residents

You never know when trauma will find you. It was early on for both Adam and RJ, but by sharing what happened to them, they’re hoping others can learn what to do when the unexpected happens.

“Would I go back and change it? Probably not,” RJ said. “Just because I wouldn’t want to change what I have today.”

They’ll continue telling their stories in hopes of encouraging, inspiring and motivating people in the same way they’ve done for one another. 

You can follow both of their journey’s on Instagram. Click here to follow Adam and here to follow RJ.

Reach out to Maggie Smolka on Facebook or email MSmolka@wtajtv.com if you know someone or an organization that’s making it matter in our community.

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