Helaina Lake sits at home with her support dog, Xena. Lake was injured in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan five years ago, which left her with extensive scarring on her legs, and the amputation of one of her fingers.

LIVERMORE FALLS — Helaina Lake hoped to return to active military duty when she recovered from devastating injuries received during a suicide-bomb blast in Afghanistan on June 20, 2012.

But the staff sergeant, a military policewoman in the South Carolina Army National Guard, was deemed unfit for duty and was medically retired.

“It has been a long haul physically and a little bit emotionally,” Lake, 28, who grew up in Livermore Falls, said. “I’ve adapted so I can do whatever I need to do with the limitations I have.”

Her squad was on a dismounted patrol collecting biometric data and DNA at an intersection in Khost City in east Afghanistan when the bomb went off. She took the brunt of the blast on her right side. Her leg was shattered, index finger severed and her arm severely damaged, among other injuries.

Three fellow military policemen and an interpreter were killed, along with several Afghans. Five others on her team were injured.

The horror of that day is forever etched in her mind.

Emotionally, she said, she is doing pretty good.

“I feel like it comes in phases. Because we are getting close to the anniversary, I feel like it is on my mind even more,” she said. “I usually like to be alone. I go out for a hike, out in nature, somewhere quiet so I can reflect and no one witnesses me grieving. ” 

Lake sat on a couch in her living room in shorts as she talked. Scars on her leg and under her arm show the extent of what she has been through. Her service dog, Xena, is nearby. The black German shepherd helps her handle her post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

“She assists me in going places I wouldn’t go without her,” Lake said. “I’m not a fan of crowds. She will go in back of me and sit and create a buffer.”

Lake was awarded the Purple Heart, a Bronze Star and a Combat badge. They are not on display but kept along with coins awarded her for specific actions during her military career. They include one from President Obama when she was at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.

To Lake it seems like the past five years have been a blur.

With more than 50 surgeries behind her — her last one in 2014 — she works hard to keep fit. She has competed in two tough mudder challenges — each a 10- to 12-mile obstacle course — in honor of the three guys who lost in the bombing.

She also competed in strongman competition in April and placed second in the women’s lightweight division. She intends to compete again.

Though it was a little discouraging to not be able to go back to active duty, Lake said, she knew it was likely she wouldn’t be able to stay on.

She considers it a blessing in disguise because it lets her be the mother she always wanted to be to her 7-year-old son.

“I get to make Aden my No. 1 priority,” she said. “Aden is my No. 1 cheerleader. He notices everything I can do.”

He was at the strongman competition cheering her on.

Lake stays busy working out and being active with her son who plays baseball and does karate. She also works around the house and her land and takes care of her three horses.

This month she takes her exam to become a certified personal trainer. 

“I would like to show people your body can overcome anything, more than what you think it can do,” she said. I want people to know if it is an injury or something you don’t let it define you.”

She was told she wouldn’t walk normally but she does. 

“They want to prepare you for the worst-case scenario. It doesn’t mean you have to accept that as your outcome,” she said.

She wants to be able to do whatever she wants.

“I want to be able to do it and I am going to find a way to do it. I want to have a good quality of life … I am thankful to be alive,” she said. 

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Helaina Lake of Livermore Falls displays her Purple Heart and Bronze Star received after being injured in a suicide bombing in Afghanistan five years ago.

Helaina Lake holds a marble and a letter from the son of a World War Two veteran who carried the marble throughout the war.Helaina Lake points to one of the many coins she was awarded as accolades for her service.


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