Gretchen Evans, left, and members of her adaptive racing team confer during the World’s Toughest Race. Contributed / Gretchen Evans

Gretchen Evans, a retired Army command sergeant and a disability rights advocate, will be presented with the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the 2022 ESPYs. 

“I was dumbfounded, surprised and humbled. I had no idea I was even being considered,” said Evans, a Brunswick resident.

Tillman, who left pro football to join the Army in 2002, completed multiple tours as an Army Ranger before being killed during a mission in Afghanistan. The award from ESPN is presented to an individual with a strong connection to sports, who has served others in a way that echoes the former NFL player. 

Evans, at age 46 and after 27 years in the Army, suffered a traumatic brain injury, complete hearing loss and other injuries in a mortar blast while stationed in Afghanistan in 2006.

Recovering from her physical injuries took about 18 months, while the emotional and mental recovery took years.

“Every day I have to think about how fortunate I am to still be here,” she said, “and that propels me to be better. I’ve been afforded a second chance.”  



While living in North Carolina in 2019, she founded an adaptive racing team called “Team Unbroken,” made up of people with mixed abilities. The team applied to compete in the World’s Toughest Race: Eco-Challenge Fiji, a multi-day expedition traversing a myriad of terrain. Evans’ team was rejected multiple times before finally being admitted.

Evans Contributed

“They couldn’t wrap their heads around the severity of our injuries and that we could still compete at an elite athlete level,” she said.

The hosts expressed their fear that members of Team Unbroken might get hurt.

“I laughed,” Evans said, “because we’d already been hurt – really hurt.”

“We had to explain to them that we know how to navigate life with our disabilities, and we don’t want our disabilities to define who we are or what we can accomplish,” she said.  “If you don’t open that door for us then you’re telling us what we can and can’t do and that should be our decision.” 


Team Unbroken is about building morale and inspiring others, she said. 

“For every ability that we lose due to an injury or illness, we usually add an ability to mitigate that loss. For example, I’m deaf but I lip read, so I’ve picked up a new ability,” she said. “Because I don’t hear, I see things that other people don’t see, so that can be very helpful. Your other senses kick in.” 

The team competes in other athletic events in addition to adventure racing, and hopes to inspire people of all abilities to find ways of doing whatever it is they want to do.

“We want people to be able to live their best lives,” Evans said.

“I hope the deaf population will see me and think that if I can get out there and do this stuff, then so can they, and it can give them hope,” she said. “Don’t limit yourself because something has happened to you, and don’t be afraid of failure, because it happens more than you’d like, but it also teaches you something along the way.” 

Team Unbroken is made up of both veterans and civilians, and with that, Evans hopes to cultivate a sense of understanding between the two and their different lived experiences. She wants to help veterans adjust to civilian life and familiarize civilians with the unique challenges veterans face. 



Since moving to Maine with her husband in 2020, she has also been volunteering and fundraising for Maine’s Vet2Vet program, which matches veterans to one another for mentorship. 

“We’re honored to have Gretchen as part of our organization. She’s an amazing person and has overcome astounding obstacles to achieve international acclaim,” said Susan Gold,   Vet2Vet Maine executive director.

Evans began at Vet2Vet as a peer companion and now works as an inspirational speaker, with a program they share on their website. She has also been a successful fundraiser for the organization, Gold said. 

“Her biggest contribution has been as an amazing role model for the vets in our program and anyone who hears her story,” Gold said.  

Honoring Evans with the Pat Tillman Award is good for all veterans in Maine, Gold said.


“It’s a tremendous advantage and inspiration to know that a vet who’s done so much is receiving this kind of recognition, and to know that vets’ sacrifices aren’t going unrecognized,” she said. 

Marie Tillman of the Pat Tillman Foundation noted Evans’ long list of service work after “life-life-changing injuries that ended her storied military career.”

“Since leaving the Army, Gretchen serves on the boards of several veterans’ and educational organizations, fundraises for MaineVet2Vet, shares her story through motivational speaking engagements through Women Veterans Speak, and authored ‘Leading from the Front.’ Gretchen’s commitment to serving after service mirrors the mission of the Pat Tillman Foundation as well as Pat’s example of leadership and passion for serving others,” Tillman said in a prepared statement.

Evans served from the ages of 19 to 46, spending most of her career in intelligence and as a paratrooper. 

“I basically grew up in the military,” she said. “I was privileged to have the opportunity to serve and took my career very seriously.”

Adjusting to post-military life was a long process for Evans. “It was a very rocky transition,” she said. 



She emphasized the importance of education in transitioning from the service, along with the many other benefits higher education affords.

She serves on the Board of Trustees of  Excelsior College, an online university where students can work and go to school at the same time regardless of where they live, making it a popular place for veterans to receive their education. 

Evans went to nine different universities during her time in the Army, trying to complete her degree in sociology. Wherever she was stationed at the time, that was where she would go to school.  

This meant that she was made to take many of the same core courses multiple times at different schools, and had to pay to be sent her transcript every time she transferred. 

“Excelsior is really generous for giving credits for military training,” she said. “Had I known about Excelsior, I certainly would have gone that route to begin with.” 


Now in Brunswick with her husband, a Bowdoin College alumnus, Evans is looking for support for her work.

“I’m looking for partners here in Maine because I’m relatively new, so any business, corporations or organizations that want to get involved with my quest, I invite them along,” she said.  

“Along with this award I feel I have a responsibility to live up to Pat Tillman’s legacy and the sacrifice that he made, so I hope that others in the area will help me do that because I can’t do that by myself,” Evans said. “I also hope people will step up and help support Team Unbroken so that we can continue to inspire people to live a healthy life.” 


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