Ted Bridis and his wife Sallie had a very important rule in their marriage: Don’t use Vietnam as an excuse.
The civil engineer, former Miami High football star, war veteran, scuba diver and Paralympics athlete didn’t want to use his triple-amputation as a crutch. He didn’t need to. He got along just fine with his left arm and his wheelchair.
“There was no period of adjustment,” said Sallie in an 1982 interview with Miami Herald — 12 years after the mortar blast took away her husband’s legs and right arm. “It was so bad that we simply had no choice. We had to get up and put our lives back together. And that’s what we did.”
Bridis, an inspiration to many beyond his wife and two children, died Oct. 3 from cancer. He was 67.
He graduated in 1963 from Miami Senior High School as an All-City linebacker and he attended The Citadel, a military college in Charleston, S.C., on a football scholarship.
After marrying, Sallie, in 1967 and pursuing a graduate degree at West Virginia University, Bridis re-enlisted and found himself in Vietnam in late 1969.
On Feb. 22, 1970, an enemy mortar blast severely injured 24-year-old Army Lt. Ted Bridis, who’d left his company’s foxhole to get fresh water so everyone could have some hot chocolate.
Surviving with only his left arm and having to endure two months of kidney dialysis, the right-handed veteran and his wife persevered, moving from Vietnam to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. and ultimately back to Miami.
By all accounts, Bridis started sticking to the rule early. He told the South Florida Sun Sentinel in 2000 how he told doctors who worried that he might be in denial about how much his life had changed that he was the same man he was before — a husband and a father.
“The only bad point was that emptiness in missing my wife and child,” he said. “That was the worst part about being in Vietnam.”
In the years that followed, the Bridis had a daughter, Tracy, as Ted finished his master’s in engineering at the University of Miami. He became a civil engineer for the U.S. Coast Guard, where he worked for 33 years. He also became a certified rescue diver and eventually went on to represent the U.S. as a wheelchair racer in the 2000 and 2004 Paralympics games.
Bridis got to carry the Olympic Torch as it passed through South Florida in 1996.
He remained a figure in the wheelchair racing scene for the rest of his life, setting state records while also finding success in wheelchair weight lifting.
“The feeling of the speed in the bike is exhilarating,” he told Miami Herald in 1991.
In 1982, his wife described Bridis’ forward-thinking attitude.
“Ted is not haunted by the war,” she said. “He’s a happy man. He wants to forget it. It’s over. Let’s move on. That’s his philosophy.”
Besides his wife. Sallie, he is survived by children Ted Jr., of Washington D.C., Tracy Schiller, of Fort Lauderdale, mother Margaret Patricia Bridis, of Miami, brother Michael Bridis of Pembroke Pines, and four grandchildren, Trey and Alyx Bridis and Jake and Jared Schiller.
The family will hold a visitation from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday at Stanfill Funeral Home, at 10545 S. Dixie Hghwy., with a memorial service to follow.
Bridis will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in 2014. Instead of flowers, the family asks to consider donations to the Humane Society of Greater Miami.