A final salute to Captain Tipsword

Captain John Tipsword engages with his students in AP Government.

Captain John Tipsword engages with his students in AP Government.

Nikita Lewchuk, Reporter

This is the second installment in a series about people at Harding with disabilities. 

Just as it seemed Captain Tipsword was back to stay, yet another medical complication has arisen. After his return from medical leave in January, Tipsword is once again saying goodbye; this time permanently.

In October Tipsword took medical leave due to diverticulitis, a gastrointestinal disease which can sometimes flare up and require hospital treatment.

“I went from running a marathon three weeks prior to spending 21 days in the hospital,” he said.

According to the Mayo Clinic, “Diverticula are small, bulging pouches that can form in the lining of your digestive system. Sometimes, however, one or more of the pouches become inflamed or infected. That condition is known as diverticulitis.”

Since no one in Tipsword’s family has a history of this disease he suspects that it developed as a result of his service in the Army.

Tipsword served a total of 25 years, six with the Marine Corps and 19 in the Army. In the Army he went to Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq. While in the Marine Corps he was in South America and Asia.

“I would think the contributing conditions would be environment, food and unhygienic conditions,” Tipsword said.

Although the military bases themselves are typically very hygienic, the places closer to where they see conflict are sometimes less so.

“When you’re back in the bases, the bigger ones, you could eat off the floor in the kitchen. When you’re down there in some mud-hut base with some Hescos…”

To moderate the effects of his condition, Tipsword follows the FODMAP diet, which limits certain carbs and sugars.

Unfortunately, due to the jarring nature of running and the limitations of the FODMAP diet he is no longer able to ruck, or run marathons.

“The Oklahoma City memorial [marathon] was the one I did every year. It would be a half if I was rucking, carrying the big backpack, being in uniform, about 40 pounds on your back and then you march it out,” Tipsword said.

“I love 5ks because you’re usually helping something. I’m going to run 3.1 miles and the money I paid ends up supporting children with spina bifida or something.”

In addition to the restrictive diet, years of carrying heavy equipment and combat injuries have left Tipsword with two herniated discs in his back.

“Jumping out of helicopters, wearing 25 pounds of body armor, carrying a 70 pound rucksack, and going up hills chasing afghans. I also had a mortar round blow up near me that sent me flying, and I hit an IED. [It was] the cumulative nature of all these different elements,” Tipsword said.

Tipsword left his position as the AP Government and Psychology teacher on Feb. 10 in order to prepare for his upcoming spinal surgeries.

Despite his termination, Tipsword views his experience with the administration as a positive one.

“The administration made every effort. It’s not their fault, but with the latest in a long line of medical collapses with my body this one has resulted unfortunately in me not being able to complete the semester,” Tipsword said.

Tipsword took medical leave from October to early January due to complications of diverticulitis. During that time, he continued to do what he could to teach his students.

“Throughout my entire prolonged absence I was able to communicate. I did the daily planning every day for every class. I wrote and graded all the finals, all through the administration. To carry that in addition to the norm they deserve recognition for that,” Tipsword said.

But it’s not just the faculty Tipsword will miss on his way out.

“[The students] have been outstanding. I have never ever received the amount of support I received from the students. Nothing short of remarkable,” he said.

Although his diverticulitis has settled down for the moment, Tipsword will be out for several months after his two back surgeries. Depending on how severe the damage is, the estimated recovery time is five to six months if all goes well.
“I will still be very much a part of the Harding community because I genuinely have a lot of affection for this school and its students. I’m not going to let this little thing sever that relationship. Hopefully I’ll be able to come back and teach in the not too distant future. I’ll get to deal with a whole bunch of other fine young minds; this school attracts remarkable people”