Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2011.
When Marvin Henderson’s motorcycle hit a patch of gravel on a Pascagoula street last year, he was a semester away from a college degree, anticipating the birth of his second son and could run two miles in under 16 minutes.
A year later, he’s a college graduate, Kyler and big brother Jason are his pride and joy and he can run even though he lost a leg in the accident, though not as fast as he used to.
Henderson, 31, is on medical leave from the Mississippi Highway Patrol, where he’s been working in the driver services bureau. His left leg was amputated below the knee Aug. 10 and he continues his rehab every day.
Last month, Henderson won the University Professional and Continuing Education Association South Award, which is given to an individual who has shown exemplary determination against difficult odds and demonstrated academic excellence as a continuing education student.
He’s in the running for the national award.
When Henderson first decided to go to school, he didn’t think his education would include learning to walk again.
From 1999-2003, Henderson was in the United States Marine Corps stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. He did one tour for Operation Enduring Freedom with the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Force and performed humanitarian assistance in Africa.
After the Marines, he earned an associate’s degree from Belhaven University and joined the state highway patrol.
He continued his education at Tulane University’s Gulf Coast campus at Edgewater Mall, often arriving for class in his trooper uniform.
On one of those days, Henderson helped foil a bank robbery at a branch in Ocean Springs when he stopped a suspicious customer while the crime was in progress.
“I still didn’t know he was robbing the bank. The Bank Plus teller later showed me the note,” he said.
Henderson had nine hours remaining to complete his degree and planned to accept a job with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency in Washington, D.C. He’d already passed his background checks and aced his interviews.
Then the accident happened.
He was on his way home from class when he encountered road construction on Chicot Street in Pascagoula.
He can’t talk about the accident because the case is still under investigation, but did say that he was thrown from his motorcycle and his leg and foot were crushed by the impact of the road when he hit.
With multiple surgeries on the horizon, he withdrew from classes, which meant he had to forego his VA financial assistance.
Henderson was transferred to Jackson for his continued treatment and began an extensive program at the University of Mississippi Rehabilitation Hospital.
He enrolled in Tulane University’s Madison Campus, attending classes on crutches and online. He completed the semester he’d left unfinished and took the last of his classes this summer.
Through the semester, despite the pain from his injuries, the medication and the demands of fatherhood and his job, Henderson remained focused and optimistic regarding his upcoming graduation, said Sherry Chance, director of Tulane’s Madison campus.
“Marvin is the strong, silent type. He is not a complainer, and he always managed to stay strong and focused,” she said.
Despite about 25 surgeries to save his leg and foot, Henderson elected to have them amputated so he could walk without constant excruciating pain.
A prosthetic leg could give him more mobility and allow him to resume his life when his rehabilitation is complete.
His goal when he started school was to graduate in May of this year. He was just three months late, despite the physical and emotional setbacks, graduating Aug. 31, with a bachelor of arts degree in homeland security studies.
His goal now is to get on the highway patrol’s SWAT unit and to teach cadets enrolled in the trooper academy.
He’d still like to be a federal agent.
“It would take a lot more training, but I’m up for the challenge to try to do it,” he said.
He hopes to show others that adversity doesn’t have to get in the way of their dreams.
“There is a light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “When I was in it, I couldn’t see no daylight. But I kept going. I won’t let nothing stop me.”
Highway Patrol Master Sgt. Johnny Poulos, at the Biloxi headquarters, knew Henderson would become an outstanding trooper when the young man rode with Poulos for his field training.
He believes it was that training that has helped him overcome these recent challenges.
“One of the things that is drilled into you is you do not quit,” Poulos said. “He won’t quit. That’s just the way he is. He had a lot of ambition when he was working the road. It’s not surprising to me at his perseverance with this. That’s Marvin.”