Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My Life My Boat - Horton's Heroes

Horton's Heroes My Life My BoatAttila Tassi is the Malibu Boats (@MalibuBoats) My Life My Boat honoree for January. We are promoting his passion of helping injured United States Service Men and Women through an organization he created called Horton's Heroes.

Check out the Horton's Heroes Malibu Boats Flickr gallery.

Attila Tassi is an amazing man who leads an extraordinary life. We are proud that his Malibu boat allows him to further his passion of giving back to injured United States Service Men and Women. He is an inspiration and a man who plants the seeds of charity and compassion in everyone he comes in contact with. He leads by example. And although his boat is a tool to help him give back, Attila’s dedication to service personnel started long before he became a Malibu boat owner.

After September 11th Attila found himself looking for a way to give back to the men and women who protect and serve our country in the military. Living in Virginia, Attila had a front row seat to witness the steady stream of injured soldiers funneling into Walter Reed from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Interviews with many of these soldiers were broadcast regularly and seemed to strike a cord with Attila. He wanted to help these young men and women.

His first course of action was to find a charitable organization that was already involved in supporting combat wounded. Attila was willing to donate money, time, whatever they needed. He did this, but Attila wanted to be personally involved in helping as well as a monetary donor. He realized the money he did donate went largely toward administration expenses and very little actually benefited the soldiers directly. Attila felt there was a better way.

Attila’s close proximity to Walter Reed Medical Center gave him a unique opportunity. His location allowed him to personally visit wounded soldiers and he did. When he first started, some soldiers were a little standoffish, but once he met one they introduced him to others and he began visiting more and more. Attila explained to us, “Many of the Marines’ and Soldiers’ families live too far away to visit on a regular basis. So I would visit and bring them Gatorade, video games, magazines, etc.” There wasn’t much more he could do for the guys and girls in the hospital besides visit. Many of them still had multiple surgeries and lengthy rehabilitations ahead of them. He still wanted to do more.

Attila called Walter Reed and got the number for Occupational Therapy. It was during this call that Attila was referred to Karen, an occupational therapist working with the men and women in this area of the hospital.

“The Occupational Therapists at Walter Reed help amputee patients renegotiate all the simple and complex tasks that make us occupational and relational human beings.” Katie Ann Kozick, Army Occupational Therapist, described occupational therapy this way in an online video named “New Video Highlights Occupational Therapy At Walter Reed” posted on

The soldiers in occupational therapy were working hard to restart their lives while, in most cases, missing a limb or worse. Attila wanted to help boost their confidence as well as give them a fun break from the difficult rehabilitation they were under going. So he called Occupational Therapy and spoke to Karen. He let her know that he had two tickets to the up coming NASCAR race in Richmond, VA. He asked if any of the soldiers in her care would like to go. Karen offered Attila’s invitation to her patients. Jason Burr was a United States Army Sgt First Class who took Attila up on the invitation. This is how Horton’s Heroes began.

When we spoke to Jason about Attila and Horton’s Heroes he said this, “Attila would bend over backwards to help any wounded soldier, but it's not just about that one moment or day of help. He keeps in touch with all of the soldiers he encounters. He prays for them and treats them as if they were family.”

Though the organization did not become official until 2007, the concept was put into action in 2004 when Attila offered up those NASCAR tickets. A couple of calls later Attila had the pleasure of meeting Tim Horton and Jamel Daniels for a baseball game with tickets shared in the same way. It was around this time Attila’s efforts took the name Horton’s Heroes.

Horton’s Heroes was named for Tim Horton and represents all of the injured service men and women like him. Formerly a Lance Corporal in the Marine Corp, Tim’s left leg was amputated as a result of being injured during his tour of duty in Iraq. Tim was a resident of Walter Reed for some time under going surgeries and working through recovery. He met Attila at this baseball game and now according to Tim, “I consider him [Attila] one of my best friends.”

Tim’s response to questions about how Horton’s Heroes and Attila helped him was simple, “Attila helped me stop worrying and he made life feel normal again.” Tim continued, “He got me out doing the things again.”

“Sports are my passion.” Tim told us. He runs, plays flag football and basketball, among other sports. Tim is extremely active, not for an amputee, but for any 25 year-old guy. “I focus on activity and nutrition,” Tim said. His injuries have not held him back and he attributes this to Horton’s Heroes.

Tim not only inspired the name and benefited from Attila’s efforts, but he also strives to help others through Horton’s Heroes. He donates money, passes out pamphlets, talks to veterans and tries to help Attila any way he can. He knows what this organization has done for him and he wants to help other veterans wounded in combat achieve the same level of success.

There are many others who have been helped since Jason, Tim and Jamel. We had the pleasure of speaking to another veteran about his experiences with Attila and Horton’s Heroes. United States Army Sergeant E5 Javier Torres met Attila in 2006 at Walter Reed after being injured in Afghanistan a year earlier.

Javier’s HUMVEE was ambushed and he received 3 Gun Shot Wounds. One threw his left ankle, another threw his right foot and the third hit his right shin. He went through many surgeries and wasn’t able to walk for over 9 months. He severe nerve damage in his left leg and a drop foot. He also has nerve and muscle damage in his right foot. Plates, pins and screws hold his 3rd, 4th and 5th metatarsals together. After 2 1/2 years of rehab and other treatment at Walter Reed Javier was medically discharged on May 28, 2008. He received 2 Purple Hearts, a Combat Infantrymen Badge, an Army Commendation Medal and an Army Achievement Medal.

Javier is an amazingly up-beat individual and he believes his positive outlook resurfaced with Attila and Horton‘s Heroes. Javier described to us the difficulties injured soldiers face. Depression and withdrawal are just a couple hardships he mentioned. He also said it was difficult just to venture out of the hospital. Horton’s Heroes helped Javier with all of these issues.

Javier recalls the turning point in his recovery during a sky diving trip with Attila and 7 other Horton’s Heroes. Javier loved jumping out of planes in the military, but was told his injuries would most likely prevent such activities in the future. Attila made it possible for Javier to jump again and according to Javier, “It really helped my confidence. The jump made me realize I could do anything I put my mind to.”

Javier described Attila this way; "He's like the Disneyland for vets. He makes our dreams come true!"

Attila has continued to include Javier in other outings like a trip to UFC fights, but when talking to Javier he is most appreciative of Attila’s friendship. Attila has provided Javier transportation and helped him visit family. Attila helped Javier get to know his wife. They now have a baby girl. Attila has been available by phone to offer diapering advice and even traveled to California to visit Javier and his family.

Javier concluded our conversation with this thought about Attila. “Just a hello and thank you is enough to show a soldier or a vet appreciation, but Attila takes it further and communicates with us as a friend. He is a shoulder to lean on.”

Aside from being a great friend to these soldiers Attila is always expanding Horton’s Heroes support. Currently, they provide tickets to sporting events featuring the Washington Redskins, Washington Capitals, and the Ultimate Warrior Challenge. Horton’s Heroes also provides dinners, movie and concert tickets as well as funds trips to Las Vegas and skydiving. With their 2009 Hero Edition Wakesetter VLX Horton’s Heroes also offers wakeboarding and tubing trips on the Potomac River. Soon Attila plans to add other services to Horton’s Heroes including legal and financial counseling.

Jason summed-up the power of Horton’s Heroes with this statement, "Giving any wounded soldier the opportunity to get outdoors is rehabilitative in and of itself. We get to experience real things again. Even though we’re wounded we're not dead. With the help of organizations like Horton's Heroes and people like Attila, it shows us there's life on the other side of the challenges we face."

The Horton’s Heroes brochure states, “Horton’s Heroes mission is to support injured service personnel undergoing therapy at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Hospital; to try to bring some sense of normalcy to their lives; to show these men and women that people do care.”

When we asked Attila why he chose to go this route to give back to our military, he answered, “Unfortunately, many of our soldiers return from combat severely wounded. We provide these services to help them heal mentally and physically.”

Horton’s Heroes was recently incorporated as a non-profit organization. With this certification, donations to Horton’s Heroes are tax deductible. According to Attila, “You can make a difference, so please give what you can. Our military men and women deserve our help.” For more information on Horton’s Heroes, please contact Attila Tassi, Founder and Chairman at 703-928-5516 or email

Attila asked that we tell the individual stories of Horton’s Heroes. His efforts are all about them. So if you would like to read more about the men and women Attila considers Horton’s Heroes please visit the Horton’s Heroes Fan Page on Facebook.

Tags: | | | | | | | | | | | | | | |

No comments: