Mountain-climbing Wounded Warrior provides inspiration

By STEPHEN TSAI | The Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Published: November 23, 2012

HONOLULU — Army Staff Sgt. Dan Nevins climbed Mount Kilimanjaro two years ago.

He is a champion cutting-horse rider.

Today, he will surf for the first time.

Nevins is a double, below-the-knee amputee.

"There's no limit to what you can try to do," said Nevins, who was injured during an explosion in Iraq in 2004.

Appreciating life was Nevins' Thanksgiving message to the Hawaii football team before Thursday's practice.

"When they hear a story that hopefully will never happen to them, it creates a little perspective in their life — not to take for granted how physically fit they are," Nevins said. "It's awesome to be able to talk to the guys and paint that picture for them. It might make them put an extra 10 percent to the game."

Nevins was able to rebuild his competitive spirit through the Wounded Warrior Project, a not-for-profit organization that provides programs and services to severely injured military personnel.

The project has chosen the UH football team as a representative for Saturday's "freedom" game against UNLV at Aloha Stadium. The Warriors will wear specially made uniforms that will be auctioned afterward, with proceeds benefiting the project.

Nevins recalled how his life changed on Nov. 10, 2004. He and four others were riding in a Humvee on a dismount-combat operation in Iraq. In their path were 255 mm rounds buried in the ground.

"The tire hit a pressure switch," Nevins recalled. "The artillery shells blew up right underneath my truck. It sent my vehicle about 6 feet in the air in a ball of fire. It wasn't a land mine, but it worked just like one."

The explosion cut the femoral artery in his left leg. He lost the leg below his left knee.

"I actually saved my right leg initially, but took it off three years later," said Nevins, citing recurring bone infections and constant pain. "It was time to let go. It was the best decision I made."

In all, he underwent 32 different surgeries — 36, if four "procedures" are counted.

Nevin has two prosthetic legs. There are the sockets, which fit over what remains of his legs, and the "feet," which consist of shocks and rotators. In tandem, they allow him to run, jump and dance. The Wounded Warrior Project provided him with opportunities to compete.

"The government has always given us what we need to survive," Nevins said. "The Wounded Warrior Project has given this generation what they need to live. It's a completely different basket of goods."

The project helped Nevins play golf (he has a 7-handicap) and then snowboard.

"They gave me different opportunities to be competitive again, to lead again," Nevins said. "They're all about: Teach a man to fish, not give a man a fish."

The project's logo is a soldier carrying a wounded soldier.

"The coolest part of the project is we all identify with the warrior on top," Nevins said. "But then we all become the warrior on the bottom. We want to help the next guy achieve."

Nevins' background touched the UH players.

"We have to be grateful for every day because tomorrow is not promised," quarterback Ikaika Woolsey said. "It was a wake-up call to be thankful for everything we have. We're truly blessed."

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