This article appeared in the Times Herald-Record on August 27, 2008 and was written by Sal Interdonato.
WEST POINT He's fearless, willing to throw every ounce of his 207-pound frame at opponents.
He's the voice constantly heard in practice pumping up his fellow defensive backs.
When defensive coordinator John Mumford called a preseason defensive team meeting, searching for a leader, senior strong safety Lowell Garthwaite was the first to step up and say, "Coach, I'm taking that role."
But first Garthwaite needed to earn his teammates' respect. He was as far from Michie Stadium as possible last fall because he'd left the Army football team after suffering from asthma attacks and a deviated septum that led to constant vomiting and fluid buildup in his lungs.
The illnesses cut his 2006 season short. He played in seven games, including two starts, and had an interception, but Garthwaite's football days appeared to be over. He had treatment, but then Garthwaite, an Arabic major, decided to enter an exchange program at the University of Jordan and headed to the Middle East to find himself, cutting off ties to the football team.
Garthwaite's decision didn't sit well with the Army coaching staff.
"I totally commend him for having the guts to say I have to do what's right for me," one teammate said. "He was getting hell from everywhere up here."
Garthwaite embraced the Arabic culture and visited historic places like Petra, an ancient city of carved rock, the Jordan River, where Jesus was baptized, and the Egyptian pyramids. And Garthwaite wasn't driving cars to these places.
"Hitch-hiking and riding camels," Garthwaite said.
Garthwaite also routinely visited Palestinian refugee camps and taught children about American culture.
"It sounds real cheesy, but I found myself as a person and got spiritual," Garthwaite said. "Before that I couldn't see the big picture in life. I wasn't able to see beyond the daily happenings at West Point."
Garthwaite's health problems weren't the first time life had dealt him an unfair hand in his time as a cadet. Garthwaite took an emergency leave in 2005 and returned to Concord, Calif., to be with his mother, Holly, as she fought breast cancer. He took a job as a cab driver in the San Francisco area to help put food on his family's table.
"My sense of direction isn't the best," Garthwaite said. "I quit before I got fired a couple of weeks in."
Garthwaite's next job was at a mortgage company while his mother received chemotherapy.
"It was hard watching some of the games," Garthwaite said. "I've played football my whole life. I knew I wouldn't be graduating with my class. You have to do what you have to do for your family. I never regretted the decision."
In Jordan, Garthwaite wasn't watching Army football, but every day found himself dreaming about football. He figured his subconscious was sending him a message, so Garthwaite found a gym and started working out. He worked out so hard he earned the nickname "Wash," which in Arabic means "beast."
"I didn't just dream," Garthwaite said. "I felt like I owe it to a lot of people at West Point to try and get back on the team. I felt like I abandoned them in a way."
When he returned to West Point after 2007 Christmas break, Garthwaite asked Army coach Stan Brock to be reinstated.
"He had to earn his way in the door," Brock said. "I put that up to a team vote. ... He started from outside the door really."
Garthwaite's teammates voted him back, but he was dropped to the bottom of the depth chart at strong safety.
"That was a shocker," Garthwaite said. "I had to pay my dues. It was the only way to go to earn the respect back."
Once again, Garthwaite had to go a long way to find himself.
Now, the respect is back. So is his enthusiasm.
"He goes after it every day," senior linebacker and captain Frank Scappaticci said. "Everyone on the team is happy to have him back. He plays with a lot of passion. It's something you can't teach, it's infectious."
Garthwaite's journey comes full circle on Friday, when Army opens its season against Temple.
Garthwaite can't wait. He's starting at strong safety.