Rick Cicero and four other people jumped out of an airplane from 10,000 feet over Lake County, Florida on Monday. However, this was no ordinary skydiving expedition.
The 1988 Suffield High School graduate and former U.S. Army paratrooper was experiencing the thrill of free fall just 30 months after losing an arm and a leg to an improvised explosive device (IED) in Afghanistan.
Since his injury, Cicero has become heavily involved volunteering for the Wounded Warrior Project, doing his best to inspire others to get up as he did.
"Sometimes you have to do things to motivate others, and in order to do that, you have to lead by example," Cicero said in a telephone interview Wednesday night. "I can set the example and get other guys motivated to do what I did, get them up out of chairs or wheelchairs, or if they have the ability to walk, to get them up walking and doing things, get them living and wanting to do these other things that make our hearts pump."
Cicero joined the Army after graduating from Suffield, serving as a paratrooper. Upon his discharge, he became a police officer in Hamden, then was recruited by the Virginia State Police. "I ended up being the head trainer for the VSP canine unit, but an injury ended my career in 2007," he said.
He became a military contractor, working with military IED detection dogs, which is what he was doing in Afghanistan in August 2010.
"On a foot patrol, my dog alerted on an IED, but unfortunately she had taken me directly to it," he recalled. "I set it off and it blew me sky-high, and I lost my right arm and my right leg."
Cicero was hospitalized in Germany for more than three weeks, then spent another three-and-a-half months at the VA hospital in Tampa, about 50 miles from his home in the tiny community of Weeki Wachee, on the Florida Gulf Coast.
"Seeing how fortunate I am for everything I have in my life, part of what I'm trying to do is give back to the VA and my fellow soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and get them motivated and back up to living," he stated.
For Cicero, part of living meant going back up into the air. "It was an opportunity to experience something I hadn't experienced in many years, and to know I still have the ability and the constitution to stand up and do it is priceless," he said.
Cicero and one other former paratrooper had jumping experience, but the other three members of the party had never jumped before. One is a staff member from the VA.
"She teaches me regularly how to use new prosthetic arms in particular," Cicero said. "She has been an instrumental part of our lives, and it was an opportunity to give her a reward back. Her husband is a former paratrooper as well - he was an airborne Ranger."
A television crew from Fox 35 captured some footage of the jump for a profile it did on a local wounded veteran who was part of the group.
Cicero said his children have always been his inspiration. His daughter Scarlet, 15, wanted to make the jump with her dad, but was not allowed because she is under 18. She did watch the spectacular event unfold from the ground.
Scarlet wrote on her Facebook page, "Today I got to go see him and a few other guys he was in the hospital with go jump out of a plane for the first time since their injuries. He is such an inspiration to me and I am so glad he is here today. Love ya dad."
Cicero's son Dylan is following in his dad's footsteps. "Dylan is an Army paratrooper in Special Forces training right now," Cicero said. "Both my kids are a great inspiration for me in my recovery."
He also gives tremendous credit to the support he receives from his girlfriend, Lynn Millick. "I will tell anybody in the world, she is well worth getting blown up for," he said.
The support also comes from Cicero's faraway former hometown, even though he hasn't lived here for many years.
"Knowing the friends and family I still have in Suffield, and the immeasurable impact they've had in my recovery, to see people I hadn't seen in years reach out to touch me after I got hurt - I want to thank everybody back there," he said. "They are family and friends that can't be replaced."