Veteran of the Year: Adam Keys

Adam Keys is a veteran, public speaker, marathoner, climber and stand up comedian. He's also a triple amputee and survivor of a deadly attack in Afghanistan in 2011. He was honored as the Veteran of the year for 2019.

Adam Keys is truly one of a kind.

At only 35, he is well known for being a veteran, public speaker, mountain climber, marathoner, stand-up comedian and more.

What makes Keys even more extraordinary is that he has accomplished all those things as a triple amputee.

Originally from Canada’s Nova Scotia, Keys and his family moved to Whitehall, Pennsylvania, when he was 13. With many family members who served in the Canadian military, Keys said that joining was something he always wanted to do.

Keys was a senior in high school on September 11, 2001. Since Keys was not yet a U.S. citizen, he had to get a green card before he could enlist in the military.

Keys served as a paratrooper, and in December 2009 he left for Afghanistan on his first deployment. Seven months in, Keys was riding in an MRAP vehicle with four other soldiers when their vehicle was destroyed by an improvised explosive device. Everyone in the truck was killed — except Keys.

He was in a coma for two months. “First thing I remember was when I woke up almost two months later and asked where I was and where my rifle was.”

Then he realized that he’d suffered a life-changing injury.

“I technically died several times and they brought me back to life so I don’t wanna waste any time now with my time on the planet,” Keys said.

Key's speaking at Luke's Wings (Courtesy of Adam Keys Facebook Page)
Key's speaking at Luke's Wings (Courtesy of Adam Keys Facebook Page)

Keys will be honored as a Veteran of the Year at the annual Servicemembers of the Year Award ceremony in Washington, D.C., on July 10.

Keys struggles with survivor’s guilt. But he has used those feelings to motivate himself in his life and career.

He began setting personal goals — parachute jumps, free water swims and marathons. He climbed Africa’s highest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro. Keys became a public speaker and started his own organizational effort called One Step Forward to help other wounded veterans. Keys said the name came from what people would always tell him while he was in the hospital.

“I always just tried to focus on the ‘One Step Forward’ part and just tried to forget about the two steps or ten steps backward.”

He hopes to inspire others to persevere over their own challenges.

“When people first look at a guy like me they’re only thinking, ‘Life must be terrible.’ And listen, I still have bad days and I still have to see doctors and I have surgeries and all that stuff does suck,” Keys said.

“But there is good coming from it.”

“I don’t think it’s my duty to go out and represent the amputee population but I am one of many who do that and people really do appreciate it,” Keys said. “So that’s a great side benefit to what’s happening here.”

Throughout his life Keys has been cracking jokes, and recently he began a career as a stand-up comedian.

“At the end of the day, I want them to laugh with me and not at me,” Keys said.

Last year, after Kevin Hart stepped down from being the host of the Oscars, Keys took a run at being the host. He was not selected for the event, but he says that he would still love to do it someday.

Keys currently lives in Annapolis, Maryland, and just graduated from improv school. He says he won’t be climbing mountains anytime soon but will continue to focus on his stand-up career.

Once Keys commits to something, "it’s all or nothing for me, I’ll train and I’ll rehearse and do all the stuff I have to do to make sure I put myself in the best position to have success. And not everything is a success, you know, but I put everything into it to hopefully make it happen and for the most part that’s been working out for me.”

Photo of Keys in the Hospital following his injury (Photo Courtesy of Adam Keys Facebook Page)
Photo of Keys in the Hospital following his injury (Photo Courtesy of Adam Keys Facebook Page)
Keys performing stand up comedy. (Courtesy of Adam Keys Facebook Page)
Keys performing stand up comedy. (Courtesy of Adam Keys Facebook Page)
Keys completing a race. (Courtesy of Adam Keys Facebook Page)
Keys completing a race. (Courtesy of Adam Keys Facebook Page)