JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- They say through tragedy triumph is born. And that's how JT Townsend lived his life. Now in death, one of the lives he touched and changed is helping his legacy live on.
"I was in a coma for 20 days and when I woke up I realized I didn't have a foot, a kidney or a third of my colon and I was really upset. I was really down," said Navy sailor Brett Parks.
Parks did what he said any good man would. He jumped in when a stranger was being robbed. He was shot in the stomach that October day, his life forever changed.
"This guy comes rolling into my, comes rolling into my room with this huge smile on my face and it was JT," said Parks.
Townsend faced a similar life-altering tragedy. He was paralyzed from an injury during a high school football game.
"I thought to myself, 'What's this guy smiling about? He's worse off than Iam,'" he said.
That smile was a JT trademark. He used it to encourage those facing tragedy. Today, Brett credits JT with turning his anger into inspiration. It was a bittersweet day only months later, when JT's heart stopped and he died.
"I do miss JT and this community misses JT. That's the 'bitter' part. But the 'sweet' part is, he's waking now. He's in heaven and he has his legs back. He has his arms back," he said.
Parks is now honored to get to carry JT's legacy on. He's been named one of several new "testimonials" of the JT Townsend Foundation.
"Those are some huge shoes to fill. There could be four of me or five of me and it wouldn't fill JT's shoes," Parks said.
But that infectious smile JT was always flashing, Parks has one, too.
"There's no one that could ever have a smile like him. I'm sure my smile pales in comparison to what his was," he said.
But Parks said that's what it is all about. And while Townsend can never be replaced, Parks is honored to carry that legacy on.
"It's all about giving somebody a glimmer of hope when it seems like there is no hope," he said.
Parks said the JT Townsend Foundation doesn't run on hopes and dreams; they need community funding and support to continue JT's amazing mission.