To assist with tuition, and having two grandfathers who had served in the military, Dan Rose joined the Army Reserve in college. Ten years into his Reserve career, Rose found himself serving as a combat engineer in Afghanistan. While on a routine route clearing mission, Rose and his crew triggered an Improvised Explosive Device (IED), hidden underneath the muddy road. The IED had just shy of one thousand pounds of explosives in it, splitting Rose’s armored truck in two, flipping it, and leaving Rose paralyzed from the chest down.
“HEY, YOU’RE GOING SKIING OUT IN COLORADO IN DECEMBER.”
Recovering and rehabbing at James A. Haley VA Hospital in Tampa, Rose was quickly introduced to adaptive sports through their jam-packed recreation therapy program. “The rec therapists at Tampa Bay were awesome. They always had things going on. The quad rugby teams would come in. We’d go hand cycling, do a lot of stuff. There was a lot of introduction to a lot of different things that were going on.”
Skiing, however, made Rose skeptical. So when his recreation therapist told him that she had arranged for him to go skiing just three months after his discharge, Rose’s response was a doubtful, “Okay.”
GOING HOME IS THE HARDEST PART
Rose was in a dark place in his life after returning home to his small town in Wisconsin. He says that before returning home, he already knew the sidewalks and restaurants from memory including all of the places that were not wheelchair accessible.
Rose says, “I basically knew where I could and couldn’t go before I even got there, so it was tough. And I didn’t know anybody else who had a disability. And so the world started to feel like I was the only person in it. I didn’t know how I really fit back into it.”
But Rose had a ski trip planned, not knowing how much it would change his perspective on life.
DISASTROUS DISMOUNT WITH AN EPIC VIEW
Filled with doubt, Rose followed along as instructors gave him tips to ready him for the slopes in Colorado. Once at the top, Rose dismounted the chairlift, expecting to begin his descent down the mountain; instead, he wiped-out at the base of the chairlift.
They got me up right away and got me off to the side. And I was just kind of sitting there dusting the snow off. My little sister was on the lifts behind us coming up, and she skied up behind, and she was like, “Pretty amazing.”
I thought she was talking about my dismount on the chairlifts, though. But I finally looked up, and I’m sitting there on top of a mountain looking over the town of Breckenridge. That’s kind of when everything hit me. I’m in a wheelchair. I’m paralyzed. There’s no reason I should ever be on top of a mountain like that, but, you know, there I was.
Not only did the ski trip help Rose regain his sense of confidence, he says, “it opened up my eyes to all the stuff that I still could do.”
The National Veterans Wheelchair Games has been a part of Rose’s life since 2012, and in 2018 he’ll be competing in the Slalom, Powerlifting, Field events, Bowling and Table Tennis.
For Rose, the Games not only present an opportunity to compete, but they also provide a sense of community and offer plenty of opportunities for mentorship. According to Rose, “All of a sudden you go from feeling like you’re the only person in the world to having hundreds of people out there who are in the same situation you are in, that can help you out, that you can turn to.”
“It’s awesome to go from a place where there might not be many people with disabilities where you live and all of a sudden you show up in a city for a week, and there’s 500 wheelchairs.”
The National Veterans Wheelchair Games also present opportunities for the athletes to give back, be it in giving pointers to newer athletes, or taking part in Kids Day, as Rose has for the past few years. Rose says that Kids Day — a day where children with physical disabilities can interact with the competing wheelchair athletes and try out some adaptive sports — has been his favorite part of the Games since he was asked to volunteer in his third year of competing.
“It’s just amazing to be able to work with the kids and try to introduce them to the sports that have done so much for us.”
ADAPTIVE SPORTS ARE LIFESAVERS
If there ever was a spokesperson for the benefits of adaptive sports, Rose is that person:
You know, after I was injured, I feel like the biggest thing that I lost was my sense of identity. I went from being a very active, competitive person, all of a sudden being paralyzed having to live life in a wheelchair, and I thought I was going to spend the rest of my time sitting on the sidelines watching everybody else have fun. If it wasn’t for adaptive sports I probably would still be feeling like that. You know, it took me quite a while to realize that the injury didn’t redefine who I was as a person, you know, I was still the same person. So I could still compete and be active and live the life that I wanted to, but it took adaptive sports to make me realize it.
And for those who want to see what the National Veterans Wheelchair Games are all about, Rose says, “Just go. Just show up. You know, you’re going to see that there are people there who have injuries that are worse than yours that are doing things that you thought were impossible for yourself to do. And that’s going to change your outlook on life.”