It was just another ordinary Tuesday. There was nothing particularly special or notable about it. But it was a day that would forever alter the course of Drew Stokes' life.
On Sept. 26, 2017, as the Aviation Enforcement Agent was walking out of a Publix grocery story in Orange Park, Fla., everything changed in an instant. Before he could make sense of what was happening, he was on the ground of the parking lot, a river of blood pouring down his left side. He had been ambushed by an 18-year-old man — who furiously yelled, "I hate cops" — and subsequently shot five times at point-blank range.
As the United States Coast Guard veteran laid helpless, bleeding and in horrible pain, he knew that the situation wasn't good. But as bleak as it was, he decided right then and there that he was not going to die in that parking lot.
When he was recovering in the hospital, Stokes, who served as a professional airborne radar operator for nearly 20 years prior to the shooting incident, remembers hearing his father urging him to squeeze his hand. (He could hear him, but couldn't see him.)
"I remember laying there and saying, 'I am going to get the hell out of this hospital bed,'" Stokes recalls. "I'm going to get out of this hospital, and I'm going to work my ass off, and I'm going to get well."
Eleven surgeries and a medically induced coma later, he was back on his feet and back on full duty. With the assistance of Clay County Sheriff's Deputy Jacob Hawkins, who helped save Stokes' life on the day he was shot, he began training intensely, gradually building up both his strength and his confidence. The two ended up forming a remarkably strong bond, and they still talk on a weekly basis.
"His resilience through all of this inspires me," says his wife, Amanda, whom Drew married in 2012. "He was never angry. He was never at a point where he felt sorry for himself ... He has injuries that you can't see, and being on the course, and that camaraderie and support, help him to acknowledge that."
In January of 2019, with bullets still lodged in each of his hips — and another next to his spine — Stokes did the 2019 Jacksonville Super (10K, 25 obstacles), with some assistance from Operation Enduring Warrior volunteers, family members, and dear friends. He crushed it again in 2020, this time with Hawkins by his side, and then a third consecutive time in 2021.
"Being out there with Operation Enduring Warrior, and the other adaptive athletes and the veteran community, has shown me another path to recovery, and another path with teamwork," Stokes says. "I want people to understand that just because they may have a limitation, that doesn't define their life. Just because I got shot with bullets, and I have bullets in me, those bullets didn't kill me, and I've gotta keep going.
"You've gotta motivate yourself. You've gotta have that will to live, the will to explore, the will to go outside of your comfort zone. I want to inspire somebody else to live."
Check out the full episode of Served: Stories From the Spartan Honor Series, presented by USAA, above.
Also make sure to check out the other three episodes of Served below.