Adam Wright had dreamed of being a Kentucky State Trooper since he was in elementary school. He hoped to follow in the law enforcement footsteps of his father and grandfather. His bout with testicular cancer could have halted his pursuit of that dream, but Wright refused to let cancer beat him.
“I was going to prove just because someone gets cancer it doesn’t have to be the end of the world,” he said. “Cancer was not going to get me down. Cancer picked the wrong person.”
It was, in fact, during the physical exam as part of the KSP application process when Wright was diagnosed with cancer.
Prior to his diagnosis, Wright had already begun to question whether he wanted to pursue his dream of being a trooper because he was already working successfully in law enforcement.
In 2000, just three days after his 21st birthday, Wright was sworn in as a McLean County police officer, a position he said he was hired for with no prior experience.
“I was sworn in and scared to death. I didn’t know what I was doing or what to do,” he said. “They pretty much gave me a badge, a gun and a car and said, ‘Go forth and do.’”
This was a day and time, he said, when you could work in law enforcement for a year without having to go to training.
While in McLean County, state troopers Russell Nichols and Chuck Payne took him under their wing.
He graduated from Eastern Kentucky University’s training in 2001 and continued working for McLean County until being hired to go back to his hometown department later that year. While a member of the Beaver Dam Police Department he was assigned a K-9 unit and later worked for the Ohio County Sheriff’s Office for a short time before being sworn in as Beaver Dam Police Chief, the youngest police chief in the Commonwealth, in May 2009.
“Again, I felt like I was starting over,” he said. “I was scared to death. I didn’t want to mess up because a lot of people were talking about my age and that I was too young or needed more experience. That gave me the drive to show them that I could do the job at 29.”
At this point in his life, Wright was police chief and was enjoying what he was doing. This is when Trooper Alan Lacey came to him and told him that the Kentucky State Police was doing a Law Enforcement Accelerated Program, known as LEAP. In this program, officers go to the academy for 11 weeks instead of the normal six months and upon graduation are assigned to their home post location.
“I was enjoying my time as police chief in Beaver Dam. I liked serving my community,” Wright said. “So I thought, ‘No, being a trooper really isn’t in my thoughts anymore.’”
Lacey was persistent, so Wright said he filled out the application just to entertain Lacey’s thoughts.
Wright kept getting farther and farther along in the process. He took the written test and passed; he took the physical fitness test and passed; he passed the background check.
“I thought ‘OK, this is getting serious now,’” he said.
It was while in Lexington getting his physical that doctors first told him he might have cancer. The doctor there told him he felt something that could be cancer and that Wright should follow up with his family doctor. He followed up just days later. Initially, the doctor told Wright he thought he was fine, but 15 minutes after leaving the office Wright would receive a phone call that would change everything. He was asked to come back to the office as soon as possible. He knew then that the news wasn’t good. Surgery was scheduled within days to see how far the disease had progressed.
At this point, Wright was still in the hiring process with KSP and was still serving as police chief for Beaver Dam.
“I was in limbo and I needed to decide where I was going to go. I had to make a decision,” Wright said. “The state police was kind of the reason I found this (having cancer) out and I felt like I kind of owed it to them now.”
He resigned as police chief of Beaver Dam.
Through the surgery, chemo and recovery, which he said all took about two and a half months, he had retired and active troopers visit him. Retired trooper Wayne Neal often stayed with him during his time at the hospital.
“That right there reenergized my passion to be a trooper because these guys retired and active came to check on me periodically. That sparked my interest back again,” he said. “I thought, ‘This is where God is directing me and there is a reason for everything.’”
After healing from his surgery, Wright called the state police and explained the situation. KSP called the state commissioner to discuss his unique circumstances. He was allowed to enter the next cadet class, but this class was not a LEAP class.This meant that he would have to go to the academy for the full six months and couldn’t be promised a spot with his hometown post.
But he wanted to be a trooper and he wasn’t about to let cancer get the best of him, so less than a year after surgery he went into the academy.
Wright said he had some naysayers and those who questioned his ability.
“Some people asked me, ‘What are you going to do when you realize you can’t do it?’ and I just laughed and told them I didn’t care if they had to pack me out of there in a body bag. I was going to prove those guys wrong,” Wright said.
The training was hard and sometimes even painful, he said, but he graduated in November 2013. At that graduation ceremony was one of the same faces that was often present during his hospital stay, Neal. After the ceremony, Wright showed Neal his badge with #756 — the same number on Neal’s retired badge — a number he requested in Neal’s honor.
“I walked up to him and said, ‘How do you like that number?’ and I remember him smiling and pulling out his badge that says retired and saying ‘kind of looks like that one doesn’t it?’”
When it came time for post assignments, one of the instructors asked Wright how badly he wanted to be a trooper.
“I said, ‘I want it awful bad,’” Wright said. “He said, ‘How does Pikeville sound?”
So Wright and 18 other troopers headed east — six and a half hours away from his hometown. He put in his two months of “riding time,” and February 2014 on his first official month by himself as a state trooper, he was involved in his very first shoot out after 13 years in law enforcement. The incident started when Wright was dispatched to a hollow in a small town near Pikeville. A man was drunk and had allegedly stabbed someone. Wright and three other troopers were trying to negotiate for the suspected to come off of the front porch.
“I don’t know why but he singled me out. The other troopers were trying to talk to him and I remember calling his name, James Sallette. I’ll never forget that name. I told him to come and talk to us.”
Wright said Sallette looked right at him and asked if he was going to kill him. Wright told him that they just wanted to talk to him, but he told Wright he was going to kill him. Wright said Sallette went into the house, kicked the door back open carrying a rifle and was drawing down on him. Wright and the other troopers were forced to open fire.
“That was my first and I hope my last shoot out.”
That incident, along with his battle against cancer, has helped Wright realize that you never know how much life you have left.
Wright was fortunate enough to be able to transfer home to work for KSP in 2015. Wright said he owes so much to Ohio County and the community for helping him through a hard time in his life.
Through his years in law enforcement, Wright has been given several honors and medals. Five times he has gone to the governor’s banquet for having the most DUI arrested in the agency and has been awarded medals for his service. Last month he received a life saving award for climbing up on a roof and reviving a man by doing CPR.
On Aug. 16, Wright will become a KSP Detective which will allow him to work cases that are a bit more time consuming, including cold cases.
“This is another chapter in my story,” he said. “Is being a detective the end of it? No, absolutely not.”
He compared his life and career to climbing a tree.
“When you are looking down at the ground and you have this great big oak tree that is hundreds of feet tall, you think you are only going to climb to a certain branch, but then you get there and you realize you aren’t satisfied because you want to keep climbing. I want to continue to climb.”
Wright had another cancer scare a couple of months ago when he had skin cancer, the size of a silver dollar, cut off the side of his head. He said doctors are 100 percent sure they got it all.
Wright’s battles with cancer has helped him see things in a different way — a way he hopes others can also see as well.
“Cancer got me down and I fell rock bottom, but I used that as a new foundation to build back up. If you get knocked down, just get back up. Don’t quit. Cancer didn’t beat me,” Wright said. “I know I can overcome any obstacle that comes my way by the grace of God.”
— Dana Brantley, MyKYNews