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2017 NCAA Award of Valor: Florent Groberg

Former Maryland runner’s sacrifice saves lives

Florent Groberg spent 33 months in a Walter Reed National Military Medical Center room filled with mementos, each a symbol for how much his friends and family cared. Amid the flowers, gifts and letters, one item didn’t seem fit with the rest, but the University of Maryland, College Park, track and field jersey wasn’t out of place. Far from it.  

Groberg will be honored with the NCAA’s Award of Valor during the NCAA Honors Celebration on Wednesday, Jan. 18, in Nashville, Tennessee. This award is given to a student-athlete, coach or administrator who, when confronted with a situation involving personal danger, averted or minimized potential disaster by courageous action. The award is not presented annually, but in the event of an outstanding act of valor.

“We wanted to give him something that was lasting,” said Andrew Valmon, head track and field coach for the Terrapins. “When he ran, he wore that jersey proud. … We wanted him to have that forever.”

Groberg was at Walter Reed from August 2012 to May 2015 because he helped thwart a suicide bomber while serving in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, saving the lives of 24 men. The explosion blew away half of his left calf muscle and left him with significant nerve damage, a blown eardrum and a brain injury.

“I volunteered to put my life on the line, and that was my job, that was my responsibility,” said Groberg, who was born in France and became a U.S. citizen in 2001. “I love my teammates; I was willing to die for them just like they would die for me.”

Five years before he joined his new team in the Army, Groberg walked on to the Terrapins track and field and cross country teams in 2003. He thrived there as a distance and relay specialist and saw the same phrase on the locker room wall every day. They were a few words that Valmon hoped his team would take to heart: “Entitled to nothing and grateful for everything.”

“This is exactly what he embodies,” Valmon said.  

Groberg, who graduated in 2006 with a degree in criminology and criminal justice, enlisted in the Army in July 2008. It was a step he had planned to take since he was 12 years old, when his uncle was killed while serving in Algeria. After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Groberg grew more certain about his future, and his experience in college only served to solidify that choice.

“At Maryland, I learned so much about myself and about sacrificing for others,” he said.

During his second deployment to Afghanistan, Groberg was part of a security detachment that was responsible for the safety of 28 coalition and Afghan national army personnel. Their mission on the morning of Aug. 8, 2012, was to move on foot across eastern Afghanistan for a weekly security meeting with the provincial governor in Asadabad.

As the patrol made its way to the destination, Groberg saw a man dressed in black clothing, walking backward. Suddenly, the stranger turned around, facing the patrol. Without hesitation, Groberg sprinted toward him. When he careened into the man, Groberg felt it: A suicide vest was hidden under his dark clothing.

Groberg didn’t retreat, instead pushing and shoving him away from the group and helping a fellow soldier tackle him to the ground. Then the bomb detonated.

A second suicide bomber hidden nearby then detonated his explosive vest prematurely.  

Four men lost their lives in the explosions, but six times that number were spared. Groberg soon found himself at Walter Reed, a Maryland jersey displayed proudly in his room.   

He medically retired as a captain in July 2015. That November, he received the Medal of Honor, the highest military honor a service member can receive, from President Barack Obama.

Since his recovery, Groberg remains committed to serving the country. He has dedicated himself to helping other veterans as they move home, transitioning into new lives and seeking new careers. He was given a second chance – one he feels grateful for, not entitled to.

“I have a new battle now,” he said.