Veteran Edward Catanese thought his lifetime career was in the Army, but life’s unexpected turns led him to LCCC’s University Partnership

Edward Catanese’s life has taken a lot of unexpected turns.

After graduating from Brookside High School in Sheffield Village in 2007, Catanese thought he’d be off to a four-year university to play football. He was a champion power lifter and captain of the football team, and graduated in the top ten percent of his class.

But Catanese didn’t get into any of the colleges he hoped to attend.

“I wasn’t sure what to do with my life,” he says.

That uncertainty led Catanese to somewhere he never expected and didn’t want to be – surrounded by so-called friends making poor choices. “I did not like what my future looked like,” he says.

So Catanese made a change. He left his hometown and enlisted in the military.

“I thought that my physical and academic abilities would make me a good fit for military service,” Catanese says. “I decided on the Army because they offered me the quickest ship-out date, as well as a $30,000 bonus for signing up.”

Catanese joined the Army in May 2008 as a 19K – an armor crewman on a battle tank. He served for nearly 10 years, was deployed to eight countries, took leadership courses, graduated from Ranger School, and earned the rank of Staff Sergeant.

Catanese says military life was challenging and rewarding. He planned to make training new recruits in the Army his lifetime career.

Then life threw another unexpected twist his way.

A life-changing transition

On February 14, 2017 – just three weeks after Catanese had re-enlisted and been approved to become an Army recruiter –  he was in a severe car accident. The accident caused major damage to his spine and brought to light significant damage he already had sustained as a result of his time in the military.

His doctor had bleak news.

“My doctor told me that this injury was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Catanese says. “The pain and suffering of my back injury limited me physically and I was no longer able to lead soldiers and do the job that I loved.”

Surgery was an option, but his doctor said that it would never be a permanent fix. Catanese began to cope with the most difficult transition of his life yet.

“I was forced to accept a medical retirement from the Army.”

Retiring from the military was a blow to Catanese’s career goals, but he already had a new plan in the works and it included Lorain County Community College.

Before leaving the military Catanese got in touch with LCCC’s Veterans and Military Service Members Center. He had earned an associate degree while in the Army, and he was ready to continue his education.

“The Veterans Services center and my college counselors have been an intricate part of my transition to civilian life,” he says. “They consistently answer my general questions, schedule conflicts, and student aid issues quickly.”

Catanese arrived home in January 2018 and started classes two weeks later. His goal was to earn a bachelor’s degree in business through LCCC’s University Partnership program. But just one semester in, Catanese realized business wasn’t for him.

“I knew that I wouldn’t be happy unless I was making a difference in young people’s lives,” he says.

He wanted a civilian career similar to what he enjoyed doing in the Army – training recruits. So Catanese took yet another leap of faith and changed his path. He enrolled in LCCC’s University Partnership program with Ashland University and began working toward his bachelor’s degree in middle childhood education.

“I can earn my bachelor’s degree through Ashland University, all on the LCCC campus, close to my home and my three children,” he says.

Striving for excellence

And just as he did in the Army, Catanese entered the program with high expectations of himself and he is excelling.

“My goal has been not only to earn my bachelor’s degree but to maintain grades that kept me on the Dean’s List,” he says.

Catanese has earned a spot on the Dean’s List every semester and expects to graduate in spring 2022.

He has also found himself back on the football field, but now as a coach on his sons’ flag football teams.

“I absolutely love coaching and seeing how my and the other coach’s dedication to teaching and mentoring has paid off this session is an incredibly heartwarming feeling.”

With his daughter, he’s taken up an unexpected hobby to fill time during the COVID-19 quarantine – tie dying. It took a few YouTube lessons, but Catanese says he and his daughter have got it down.

He’s also found time for himself, continuing treatments for the injuries that threw such an unexpected turn into his life.

“One thing I’ve learned over the years is that if I want to help others then I have to make time to take care of myself.”

When he does begin the journey as an educator, Catanese hopes to share with his students words he’s lived by.

“‘Strive for excellence in all you do’ and ‘Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.’ I live by these quotes and say them a lot. They have inspired me in the pursuit of my dreams and I hope to help others do the same.”