AUGUSTA, Maine — There are moments in our lives that shift the ground beneath our feet. When those moments come and our journey changes dramatically, the story becomes not what happened but how we rise to the challenge.
Maine State Police Trooper Mickael Nunez's life changed in an instant two years ago when trying to stop a high-speed chase. The 32-year-old, who joined the Maine State Police five years ago, has not spoken about the incident with any television reporters until now.
Nunez, who grew up in Massachusetts, thought he would pursue a career in medicine. But as a young adult, he realized his passion for the community was better suited for law enforcement.
"It's the service to the community and putting myself out there for the community and the country," Nunez, who is also a member of the National Guard, said.
Nunez remembers hearing a call on the radio in the early evening of June 14, 2020, about a nearby high-speed chase. In an attempt to deter the driver from possibly causing injury to others, Nunez arrived at Route 3 near China. He was starting to set up spikes when he was struck by the driver, Robert Belmain of Caribou. The crash threw Nunez from the side of the road into a ditch.
"For a fraction of a second, I thought, 'Oh no. This is really bad.' And I felt this overwhelming sense of fear," Nunez said.
As the only officer on the scene, his years of training kicked in, and he forced himself to remain calm. The pain was intense, and Nunez quickly realized he was severely injured.
"I just knew I had to keep mentally fighting," Nunez said.
Nunez was rushed to Maine General Medical Center in Augusta, where he underwent hours of surgery for his broken right leg. Surgeons took an artery from his left leg and implanted it in his broken leg to try and save it. Nunez, who was an avid runner and hiker, pleaded with surgeons to do all they could to keep his leg.
"He's a physical guy," Lt. Patrick Hood, troop commander, said. "He needs this to come out in the most positive way. And for me, not having a lot of experience with amputees, [I thought] he can't lose that leg. That is not an option."
"The [surgeons] wanted to do everything they could to help me out," Nunez said.
But after three surgeries that lasted more than 12 hours, the doctors determined his leg could not be saved.
His right leg was amputated. It was a decision those around him worried would take him from the work he was passionate about and the sports he loved.
Trooper Mickael Nunez
At Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Boston, Nunez learned how to tackle life without a limb. While there, he approached each day, each physical and occupational appointment, with tenacity, rising early, in part because the pain was so great, he could not sleep. He worked hard, did more than asked, and was able to leave the rehab days ahead of schedule.
"I think I have always known that I am resilient, but I realize it is helpful to be that way, and I have become highly aware that it makes a difference to keep pushing on," Nunez said.
The two years of pushing, grinding, dealing with overwhelming pain, and learning to live with a prosthetic leg have paid off for Nunez, who returned to full-duty service with the Maine State Police in June of 2021: the first Maine State Trooper amputee in the state's history.
Nunez had to retake his driver's license because he now drives with his left leg. He could have had a special car to accommodate his prosthetic leg, but Nunez didn't want that. He said he wants to be able to react to any and all circumstances as a law enforcement officer, just as he did before the crash. That means being able to use any car, especially in the case of an emergency.
Nunez has been taking and passing Maine State Police tests as they come without any special accommodations.
"It is just another testament of the type of person Mickael Nunez is," Hood said.
Pushing limits while in uniform and out of it is a theme for Nunez, who has returned to his beloved hobbies of running and hiking. He has even added new sports to his repertoire, including ice skating and jump roping, in large part to show other amputees they can do anything with a prosthetic.
In 2021, Nunez hiked Katahdin for the first time with his new leg.
"I wish I could tell folks it was this emotional thing, but the first thing I started thinking [at the top of Baxter Peak] was: 'Can I do it faster?'" Nunez said.
He has since climbed Katahdin three more times, with his quickest time clocked at about three hours. He also hiked Mount Washington last year and has participated in a Spartan Race and an event with the Travis Mills Foundation.
Nunez, who was very private on social media before his accident, has decided to use it as a forum to inspire other amputees. His recovery has been buoyed by his family, his brothers in blue, and the community.
"The community started to know this is Mickael Nunez. This is the guy who stood in front of that speeding car to stop a chase that needed to be done before someone got killed," Hood said.
"I am so grateful for all the people who have helped me to continue on this journey," Nunez said.
The driver who hit Nunez was charged with aggravated assault and was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison. Nunez said he doesn't spend time thinking about the driver.
"The more time I dwell on that, the more time I am not thinking about my own life and how to move forward," Nunez said.
Nunez still has one surgery ahead of him to help with the nerve pain he continues to deal with on a daily basis.