Christopher Di Virgilio of SPORTS ‘N SPOKES Magazine Talks About His Military Experience

Editor’s Note: A decorated Marine, Christopher Di Virgilio, always wanted to be a police officer. While he was waiting to be old enough to apply, he decided to join the U. S. Marine Corps at age 17 with his mother’s permission, believing that a military background would help prepare him to be a police officer. However, the military did more then offer job training skills for Di Virgilio. It became his family – a deep brotherhood that words are inadequate to explain. Today he’s the web content manager and staff writer for “SPORTS ‘N SPOKES Magazine” (www.pvamag.com/sns/), often referred to as the “Sports Illustrated” of wheelchair sports and distributed in 40 countries worldwide. The journey he’s taken to get to what he now calls his dream job hasn’t been easy. Greatness is often preceded by tragedy and discouragement, but the true winners in life learn how to bounce back, come back stronger and set an example for others to follow. Christopher Di Virgilio is one of those trail blazers. Part 1 of a 3-part series.

Chris Di VirgilChris Di Virgilio of SPORTS 'N SPOKES magazine is glad he made the decision to join the Marines. io is glad he made the decision to join the Marines.

Chris Di Virgilio of SPORTS 'N SPOKES magazine is glad he made the decision to join the Marines.

It seems like yesterday when I held my right hand up to be sworn into the Marine Corps. I never had any doubt that this journey would offer the stability and guidance that always seemed missing growing up. I was never very good at sports and would fill my time getting lost in a good book, writing short stories, or tinkering on cars rather than scoring touchdowns or hitting homeruns. In fact, it was my lack of athletic abilities that prompted great doubt and concern from my mother that I even bother enlisting into the Marines. “You’re not very good at gym class,” she would say. “Perhaps you should rethink this decision.”

Her uncertainty was all the motivation I needed to move ahead with my decision, and at age 17, I was on my way to becoming one of The Few. Besides, I had loftier goals of becoming a police officer and this seemed like the most logical path to getting there. From mom’s signature to boot camp I was on my way. It was my first time away from home and I was nervous. No one knew what to expect but the Marines receiving us kept our minds occupied with the many activities and procedures of receiving new recruits.

From the yellow painted foot prints all Marine recruits must stand on to the pride of marching across the parade deck on graduation day, I had never felt a stronger sense of accomplishment and purpose. I was a Marine and no one could ever take that from me.

That sense of pride and honor continued to be my foundation for overcoming the many obstacles yet to come and achieving the many dreams awaiting me. And while I witnessed a great deal of loss and suffering throughout my Marine career, I also achieved a higher understanding of what it means to be an American and even more what it means to be human.

Through all of this, I never realized the military would become such an important part of my life and have such an impact on my future. I’d simply joined the military to pave the way to becoming a police officer. 

Chris Di Virgilio's military experience opened several doors for him.

Chris Di Virgilio's military experience opened several doors for him.

By 1990 budget cuts and low reenlistment statistics were plaguing the military and the first Gulf War was on the horizon. I had seen my fair share and accepted a separation package from the Marines and got out of the military. I had done my duty and seen the world and was ready for the next step in my life. I returned to Chicago and was soon hired as a police officer in a south suburb of Chicago in 1990. I attended the Cook County Sheriffs Police Academy and once again had accomplished a monumental achievement. I was a police officer. I worked there for five years, making shift supervisor, but quickly learned I really wasn’t cut out for law enforcement. But I learned a lot from it and carry those lessons with me to this day.

From there I fell back on my technical abilities and worked in the automotive industry for a while before moving to Arizona in 1996.

Throughout my entire career, besides being a police officer, I knew I wanted to be a writer. I had kept journals and written in them, starting with my enlistment in the Marine Corps, but I never shared that information with anyone. I never thought I was very good at it.

In 2002, I joined an online writing group and began to submit some of my writings, and the group would critique them. After seeing the positive results I thought, well, maybe I can do this. In the hopes of completing my 20 years in the military I reenlisted in the Marines reserves in 2000 and I stayed in the Marines until 2005. I also developed a thirst for knowledge driven by my passion to write and enrolled in school at Phoenix Community College in Arizona in 2007. I had to retest back into all the subjects and was amazed at how much I’d forgotten over the years but it soon came back to me and I was hooked. I took course after course and then decided to officially declare a major in journalism. I was in my late 30s and working a full time job but was nominated a place on the International Honor Society, Phi Theta Kappa.

I was managing an aviation shop at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. I started out as a technician and worked my way up to be the manager. Our job was the maintenance and support of the ground equipment, and our primary job was taking care of the air conditioning systems.

However, in 2009, my life drastically changed for the worse. The company shut down, I lost my job, and both of my parents died. I had begun writing for some local magazines to help build my journalism portfolio. My dad died from a stroke, and my mom from ovarian cancer. They passed away within 3 months of each other. A friend took me in, and I was living in his house. Life for me was pretty bad at this time but my previous experiences in the military sustained me at this time.

By 2009, I had faced combat in the military, traveled the world and worked several different jobs, lost my dad, and my mom was very ill with cancer. One of my neighbors had a friend in the publishing business, and she asked me for my resume to pass it on to her friend.

SPORTS 'N SPOKES magazine is like the Sports Illustrated for people who use wheelchairs.

SPORTS 'N SPOKES magazine is like the Sports Illustrated for people who use wheelchairs.

On September 27th, the day after my dad died, I got a call from the Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) to come in for an interview. My mom always donated to the Paralyzed Veterans of America, so I’d been aware of this organization for most of my life. However, I didn’t really have a connection with them. 

Honestly, the last thing I wanted to do on God’s green earth was to go talk to anyone that day. I was an emotional wreck and almost refused the interview. However, the more I thought about it, I figured that the spirit of my dad was scouting this opportunity for me.

I interviewed for a position at SPORTS ‘N SPOKES Magazine and PN Magazine. PN once stood for “Paraplegic News.” But PVA dropped that name and just became PN, because the group didn’t want to limit the magazine to paraplegics. The organization wanted to include anyone with mobility issues in the magazine. There was an intern position available at the time, because this company was busy creating the SPORTS ‘N SPOKES website.

My job was to help with the development of the website. Part of my duties included adding content on the webpage and writing stories about the athletes. I also helped organize the layout of the website. I was hired in November 2009, four weeks before my mom died. I was a brand-new guy at the company, and then in 4 weeks, I had to take some leave.

After I had my mother’s affairs straightened-out, I went back to work. We were launching the website in January. Prior to the launch, in December, I went with the editor to Florida to make a presentation of the website to the PVA, the publisher of our magazines. I had to explain how we were planning to reach our audience better by having an online presence. That evening, after my presentation, the editor offered me my dream job, and I became the web-content manager for SPORTS ‘N SPOKES and a staff writer for both SPORTS ‘N SPOKES and PN magazines.

One of the amazing pictures that Chris DiVirgilio often takes to accompany his articles. This one is from the 2011 National Junior Disability Championships.

One of the amazing pictures that Chris DiVirgilio often takes to accompany his articles. This one is from the 2011 National Junior Disability Championships.

Next: Chris DiVirgilio of SPORTS ‘N SPOKES Shares Why His Friend Chuck Is Still a Very-Important Part of His Life

About SPORTS ‘N SPOKES:  SPORTS ‘N SPOKES is a bimonthly publication produced by the Paralyzed Veterans of America. S’NS reports on competitive sports and recreation for wheelchair users. Since 1975, S’NS has been a leader in wheelchair sports coverage and currently goes to more than 43 countries worldwide. Our readers come from all walks of life all having one thing in common: determination! SPORTS ‘N SPOKES is committed to providing a voice for the wheelchair sporting and recreation community. Learn more at: http://pvamag.com/sns 

 

About the Author: For the last 12 years, John E. Phillips of Vestavia, Alabama, has been a professional blogger for major companies, corporations and tourism associations throughout the nation. During his 24 years as Outdoor Editor for “The Birmingham Post-Herald” newspaper, he published more than 7,000 newspaper columns and sold more than 100,000 of his photos to newspapers, magazines and internet sites. He also hosted a radio show that was syndicated at 27 radio stations; created, wrote and sold a syndicated newspaper column that ran in 38 newspapers for more than a decade; and wrote and sold more than 30 books. Learn more at http://www.nighthawkpublications.com

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