Wounded warrior among scholarship recipients from James Island Connector Run
Blaise Flamio looks like a younger, fitter and better-looking version of Rocky Balboa from the “Rocky” movie series.
If you go
What: The 15th James Island Connector Run, featuring a 10K run and bike and a 5K run and walk.
When: 8:30 a.m. Saturday.
Where: Cannon Park at Ashley Avenue and Bennett Street, Charleston.
Cost: $30 until 10 p.m. Wednesday; $35 after that.
Benefits: Gavalas Kolanko Foundation, which provides scholarships to disabled students at local colleges.
Registration: In-person registration and packet pick–up will be 2-7 p.m. Friday and starting at 6:30 a.m. Saturday at Cannon Park. Checks and debit/credit cards will be accepted.
Info: http://jicrun.com/ index.htm
The New York native is a dark-featured Italian-American who is muscle-bound, quiet but confident, definitely someone few would want to cross.
Yet the 25-year-old fights an internal battle on a daily basis. Flamio suffers from the effects of injuries suffered in a firefight in the Kandahar valley of Afghanistan in the summer of 2011, where he was serving in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division.
“We got there and relieved the 101st Airborne Division,” recalls Flamio. “It was a bad area on the border of Pakistan where there were a lot of opium (poppy) and grape fields. Bin Laden had just been killed. Two hundred prisoners had escaped from an Afghan prison and were coming our way.
“One day we went out and got ambushed. One of my friends got killed and a helicopter almost got shot down. It was madness. That’s when I was wounded. I was shot with an RPG (rocket-propelled grenade).”
Three pieces of shrapnel blasted into his hip and a bullet went through his calf into his heel.
The injury left him bedridden and then unable to walk without crutches for months. For a year and half, he shuffled in and out of hospitals.
While he looks strapping and healthy today, Flamio still suffers from post-concussive effects of the blast. Every night he has migraine headaches. To ease the suffering, he drinks coffee and keeps his room dark and cold, at about 65 degrees. He manages to sleep only about three to four hours a night. And when he wakes, he feels sick and wants to drive-heave.
Despite all that, Flamio wants to move on with his life. He’s started by working to complete his course work at The Citadel where he attended from 2006 to 2009 before volunteering for the Army.
Flamio wants to get his bachelor’s degree in English, apply to New York University to get a masters in journalism and write copy for TV news.
While the GI Bill covers tuition, he still needed some help with expenses and was among the 13 students receiving a college scholarship from the Gavalas Kolanko Foundation this school year. The foundation raises money primarily through the James Island Connector Run, the 15th of which is Saturday (see box).
Co-founder Nick Gavalas says Flamio’s scholarship is the first and not the last one provided to a student at The Citadel. He hopes the award will let other veterans returning to start or complete their education at local colleges know that the foundation is available to help out.
“We know there are a lot of people (veterans) who are back or coming back who are going through school that don’t know about us and that we can help,” says Gavalas. “To be able to serve Blaise, it’s what we’re all about.”
Gavalas adds that the foundation has approached The Citadel for scholarship nominees for a number of years and “due to circumstances, there weren’t many qualified students.”
Those qualifications include having a disability, keeping a grade point average of 2.5 or better, and a personal story demonstrating that the applicant won’t let their disability hold them back, says Gavalas.
Since 1999, the foundation has given 74 scholarships, which start at $1,500 and go up $500 for each successive year. The foundation works with admissions offices at the College of Charleston, The Citadel, Charleston Southern University, Trident Technical College and the Art Institute of Charleston for nominees and disperses the money via the schools.
Gavalas says he recognized the void in helping disabled college students after meeting Ron Kolanko in 1999. Kolanko had been anonymously supporting students in Pennsylvania and attested to the need.
Alex Jackson, a multischolarship recipient, already is giving back, even though he remains a graduate student at the College of Charleston.
Born and raised in Charleston, Jackson was paralyzed from a car accident when he was 9 months old, but he never let the injury stop him from leading an otherwise normal life.
He graduated from West Ashley High School and has a bachelor’s degree in media studies from C of C.
The foundation has provided Jackson with three scholarships in college, starting his sophomore year, and one as a graduate.
In the last two years, he has spread the word about the James Island Connector Run by taking fliers to businesses and talking to owners about the importance of the race and the scholarships from a personal standpoint.
His future includes continuing to advocate for people with disabilities, which he does now with a blog called “Tuesday Talk with Alex.”
But part of his message encompasses cases similar to Flamio.
“It’s often hard to tell who has a disability, not everyone with a disability is in a wheelchair, but they are out there all the same and they want to achieve their dreams just like everyone else,” says Jackson.
Reach David Quick at 937-5516 or dquick@postand courier.com.