Injured Soldier Competes In Beijing

December 21, 2008 by Sharon Adams

Three years after a spinal injury during a parachute jump abruptly ended his military career, retired sergeant Steve Daniel is an exceptional athlete, coming out of the Paralympic Games in Beijing ranked 11th in the world for arms-only rowing.

“I first stepped into my racing single (boat) in April and within five months was able to rank 11th in the world,” Daniel said in an e-mail interview with Legion Magazine shortly after competing in the debut of adaptive rowing at the Paralympic Games. “I look forward to competing in future years as I strive to work my way to the top of the arms-only category” in adaptive rowing.

Daniel, from Sudbury, Ont., joined the army right out of high school and served 14 years with the Royal Canadian Regiment based in Petawawa, Ont. He was paralyzed in 2005 while teaching parachute jumping. He broke a thoracic vertebra in a hard landing, and was paralyzed instantly.

He spent months in treatment and rehabilitation, a process aided by involvement with Soldier On, a joint program of the Canadian Paralympic Committee and the Department of National Defence which uses competitive and recreational sport to improve rehabilitation and enhance post-recovery quality of life (New Program Helps Soldiers With Disabilities, January/February).

Daniel, 34, joined the adaptive rowing program at the Sudbury Rowing Club and as part of a doubles team and broke the Canadian record at the Canadian Indoor Rowing Championships in Toronto.

“Sport is a great tool in rehabilitation, with many benefits covering the spectrum from physical to psychological,” he said. Soldier On “has provided me with the resources to become a Paralympian.” The program helped buy and modify a boat for Daniel’s training for the singles arms-only rowing event at the Paralympics.

Athletics was used to aid rehabilitation of soldiers with spinal injuries from the Second World War. A small sports competition for veterans with spinal injuries was held shortly after the war in England. “It’s ironic that 60-plus years later, newly injured veterans from many countries are now starting to filter back into the Paralympic movement,” said Daniel, who predicts a “surge of veterans” in coming games. “To participate in the Paralympics has been one of the highlights of my life.”

Not all injured servicemen and women will choose the demanding route of competitive athletics, he says, but “the benefits of participation in adaptive sport can be achieved just as well at the recreational level.”

He cites a positive attitude for all of his post-injury accomplishments. “My advice to soldiers coping with a tragic accident is to try to remain positive. The months, even years, following a severe injury can be trying, but with time and a positive outlook progress will be made to achieve a new way of life.”

That new way of life for him includes recreational wheelchair basketball, skiing, and a means to socialize and keep active with his family.

“Living with a disability has been my biggest challenge in life,” he said. “To be able to conquer my disability has been my greatest reward.”

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