INDIANAPOLIS – On Thursday afternoon, the Colts said goodbye and, most importantly, thank you to a man who defines inspiration.
For the past seven years, Josh Bleill has inspired thousands by telling his story of serving in the U.S. Marine Corps.
In 2006, an overseas explosion took both of Bleill's legs.
While recovering at the Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, Bleill found his next calling in life.
The Colts were in Washington D.C. to be honored at the White House for winning Super Bowl XLI.
During their trip to the nation's capitol, the team stopped at Walter Reed.
"Jim (Irsay) had talked with many of the veterans in the hospital and struck up a rapport with Josh," Colts Chief Operating Officer Pete Ward said. "He found out (Bleill) was from Indiana and before it was done, (Irsay) had offered Josh a job.
"We started (Bleill) going out and doing community appearances and telling about his experiences overseas, how he's overcome adversity. People just raved about Josh and he became a big asset for us in the community, so much so that he's a nationally renowned speaker."
It was that conversation with Irsay, Bleill still recalls to this day.
"I had heard (Irsay's) name growing up and was a Colts fan, so when you meet somebody like that you are already blown away," Bleill says of the Colts Owner. "He was so personable and talkative and asked me about my condition and that he knew a friend of mine who had worked out at the same gym.
"He was down to earth and a wonderful man."
Bleill's time with the Colts is over, but his message will continue to touch lives all around the United States through various speaking engagements.
"From being in the Marine Corps and a life changing event that seemed to be for the worst and the Colts and Irsay's came on and took a chance on me---it turned into some of the greatest seven years that I've had," Bleill says.
"To grow up here, getting married, having two kids, this is part of my family. I've always been a Colts fan, but to come in here and be part of this family has been an amazing experience."
The following piece on *Bleill was written by Heather Lloyd of Colts Roundup on July 4, 2015:*
The community spokesperson for the Colts was working a corporate job in his hometown of Indianapolis on September 11, 2001, when the unthinkable happened. More than 700 miles away, in lower Manhattan, two planes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center. America had been attacked on its own soil. It was a loss of innocence and security for many Americans. But heroes often have a different reaction to fear.
"Something inside of me clicked. Something inside of me knew that this was what I wanted to do. I was passionate about it," said Bleill. "I knew this was where I was being called."
Where he was being called was to join the few and the proud.
"My father always told me growing up, 'Never become a Marine or a teacher.' He was both."
On September 12, 2003, Josh Bleill followed his father's footsteps into the U.S. Marine Corps. In 2004, at 27 years old, he went to boot camp. And in 2006, he was deployed to Fallujah, Iraq. Then, on October 15, 2006, it all went black.
A bomb exploded under the vehicle Bleill was riding in. He woke up five days later to the realization that he had lost two friends and both of his legs in the blast. He spent two years recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. It was there that he had the chance to meet the Colts and owner Jim Irsay, who made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
"He sought me out. I mean, he found me at the hospital and said, 'I want to make you two promises. I'll fly you home if you want to visit and come see me about a job when you get there.'" Bleill took him up on it. And Irsay kept his word.
Corporal Josh Bleill is now a walking, talking, image of hope, using his story to motivate and inspire others. Even with all he's been through, Bleill doesn't just believe in the American dream. He's living it.
"It worked out. I'm not going to lie. I work in the NFL with the Indianapolis Colts. I travel and do public speaking. The American dream is very possible. Even after something like this, so devastating that I thought things were over, it still worked out," he said. "In America, if you keep working and things do go wrong, if you have that drive, it's well alive. It's always a possibility."
And that's as much a credit to Bleill as it is to the country he served. He was always a patriot. But now, he says the stars and stripes mean something more to him.
"My grandfather was big about raising the flag every morning and lowering it every night. So, that was a big thing that I (saw). I also think about the guys that I lost when the flags are folded," he said. "But also, I remember seeing it over there and knowing that I was safe. When I got back here, seeing it at the hospital when they pulled me off a helicopter finally, that I knew I was ok. I was going to make it."
Bleill didn't just survive. With the help of those around him, he found a way to thrive once again.
"I'm a father, I'm a husband, I'm a Christian, I'm a Colts community spokesperson, I'm a Marine."
And he's a hero.
On this Fourth of July, we honor America, the things we hold dear – faith, family, football, and those who make it possible for us to enjoy them.
Because freedom isn't free.
Just ask Josh Bleill.
And then, be sure to thank him.
You can read more about Josh Bleill and his journey in his book, "One Step At a Time."