By Carolyn Gray Anderson
When he accepted the John Wooden Global Leadership Fellowship in 2014, Derek Herrera (EMBA ’15) quoted the inspirational UCLA coach’s aphorism “adversity is your asset.” And Herrera knows about adversity: In 2012, the former U.S. Marine Special Operations Officer was shot by sniper fire while fighting in Afghanistan and became paralyzed from the chest down.
Last June Herrera blogged, “Exactly three years ago I was confronted with a situation that altered my life in many ways. Physically, psychologically, spiritually and emotionally. In most respects, I would say that getting shot and paralyzed is a wholly negative event. Conversely, the path I have traveled in the past three years has been absolutely incredible.”
Turning adversities into assets, Herrera has propelled his ideas forward, pursuing more than one project inspired by his military expertise and experiences — both positive and negative. Herrera was the first person in the U.S. to buy and get FDA approval for in-home use of the ReWalk exoskeleton, a robotic device that enables him to walk upright. He has trained as a para-triathlete, entered marathons and served on multiple foundation boards. When he was still enrolled at Anderson, he spent a week as a teaching assistant in the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans, helping to teach veterans basic skills to start and run their own businesses.
But, Herrera recently wrote, “I have gradually subtracted more and more activities from my life so that I can try to magnify and grow the one project I am willing to commit to indefinitely.”