*Amanda Burrill sat down with GoodSport to share her story. This article was originally published on GoodSport and has been edited/updated for clarity by the Editorial Manager.*
Amanda Burrill's story begins long before her time in the Military — before she even existed. Burrill’s mother was in Saigon when she nearly escaped before the city fell, just three days later. While immigrating to the United States, her mom was first a refugee in Guam before settling in California. Soon after, Burrill’s mom made her way to Maine, where she had and raised her daughter.
“I was well aware my dad had served and that my mom was granted asylum and always felt patriotic and in some ways indebted to serve myself,” Burrill stated in an interview with Head Strong. “I took an ROTC scholarship to Boston University, selected a duty station, and after graduation, was commissioned.”
In 2002, Burrill began her service as a combat systems officer, rescue swimmer, and communications officer in the Navy. But shortly after enlisted, Burrill suffered her first Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) when she slipped and fell down a hatch while aboard the U.S.S. Dubuque.
Burrill reported symptoms of difficulty reading, poor balance, and head and neck aches, but unfortunately, since TBI and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms overlap, she was wrongly misdiagnosed with PTSD. Burrill knew she was misdiagnosed because she had never suffered a “singular trauma.” It wasn’t until her second fall and TBI — in her civilian life — that she finally got the answers to her problems.
After her service, Burrill moved to New York City in 2013 to attend graduate school but was still unable to receive the proper medical care she needed despite appealing to multiple doctors. Walking back to her apartment one day, Burrill tripped and fell down some stairs causing, incredibly, her second traumatic brain injury. This time, doctors fully re-examined Burrill’s medical records and gained a deeper understanding of her pre-existing head injuries to give her a proper diagnosis. Finally, her concerns were validated and Burrill had the opportunity to receive the medical care she needed.
While serving, Burrill was an avid runner, having competed in many Ironmans, relays, marathons, and even did the 12-hour Relay for Heroes race for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a nonprofit organization that builds treatment centers for veterans with TBI and PTSD. Even with her TBIs, Burrill never stopped doing what she loved and it was her passion for running that served as a catalyst for her rehabilitation journey.
“I get emotional when I talk about running because even after my first brain injury, my gait was horrible, but I kept running and I kept racing,” Burrill said. “It gave me something to focus on when I didn’t have much focus otherwise.”
Burrill added that her difficult experience was what motivated her to become an advocate for female veterans with TBIs and to collaborate with veterans’ organizations. Burrill believes women who served have to employ self-advocacy in cases of injury and continue to persevere until they get the critical diagnosis.
Today, Burrill continues to be a brain injury advocate as well as an adventure athlete and has even added the titles “Chef” and “Travel Journalist/Host” to her repertoire.
“What I can say from the bottom of my heart is to never give up and to always know that there’s somebody who’s willing to listen and to advocate for [you], tirelessly,” Burrill said. “I’ve been there and, no matter where you are post-injury, you can get better. Maybe not all the way better, but there’s always hope. So keep, keep pushing.”
Photo credits: Amanda Burrill’s Instagram