Thursday, March 02, 2006

Profiles in Mental Toughness II

Dave Denniston was a 1999 NCAA Champion for Auburn University, and a 2003 World Championship Team Member in the 200 Breaststroke. I don't personally know Dave but I feel like I do since he's a good friend of my swim coach and I've been following his world since a little more than a year ago.

On Sunday, February 6, 2005, Dave was in his home state of Wyoming, spending time with his friend Andy Miller. They were having a great time in the mountains, sledding down some snow-covered slopes, when Dave slid into a tree and damaged his spine. The accident has left Dave, for the time being, without the use of his legs.

That was the news a year ago. Coach told us what had happened at practice - that this amazing swimmer, olympic trial veteran, healthy 20 something year old was paralyzed from the waist down. Holy crap. If it could happen to Dave, it could happen to anyone. But what I also knew, from what little I'd heard about Dave's character, was that if ANYONE could overcome this injury and walk again, it was Dave. He hasn't proved me wrong yet.

In the days after the accident, Dave's close friends and family rallied around him and part of the support network created for him was a website where people could go and check up on him, read about his progress and send him well wishes in his hospital room. (You can visit by clicking here or there's a link to the right in my sidebar.) Part of the motivation for the site was to help raise money for Dave's the time of the accident, he was in between insurance coverage from the US Olympic committee and his next job and everyone believed he was not covered at all. Fortunately, the USOC didn't abandon him and he has continued coverage thru them as well as thru a number of fundraising's always going to be expensive... But even when he wasn't sure he was covered, he never doubted himself...and not fighting to recover was NEVER an option.

Dave has been religious about keeping us informed of his progress thru the site and hardly a day has passed in the last year when Dave has shown a negative attitude about his recovery. He's just 300% positive ALL the time. Here's an example of what I'm talking's a letter that Dave wrote a few weeks ago in Swimming World Magazine, on the one year anniversary of his accident:

CARLSBAD, California. February 6. TODAY is the day! One year ago today in a single moment my life changed forever. There have been several times that Ive thought about the actions that took place when I hit that tree and relived the moments in my mind thereafter. Every time I remember how scared I was about what was going to happen to me and if I was indeed going to get off that mountain, my body shivers and I still get goose bumps. I am still amazed at how composed my friend Andy Miller stayed through the whole ordeal to get me off of that mountain without doing any more damage to my body or my spine.

What I think about more often than the accident, is the people who have supported me over the last year. WOW! I refuse to delete the thousands of e-mails I got shortly after my accident, and from time to time I go back and read them. Every card I received is saved in a box, and a few select ones are still out because they make me laugh. Lifes obstacles are so much easier to get through with friends by your side.

Attitude is everything, or so Ive been told, but when you arent allowed the chance to have a bad attitude, you soon realized that the people around you are everything. I know there is a tendency to forget about tragedys that other people experience, but in one years time I dont feel like anyone has forgotten about me. I would have to guess that I have more fans now than I ever did while I was competing.

There is so much Ive learned about myself this year that I wouldnt have traded the experience for anything. Im honestly reporting that the last year has been the best year of my life. My character has been tested, my body has been tested, and my spirit has been tested. Im a much better person now because of my paralysis.

So today, Im celebrating the day that changed my attitude and day-to-day life forever for the better. Im going to go to Project Walk, as is normally scheduled, and Im going to attempt to take over a hundred steps. My current record is 76. Afterward, Im going to go to the beach and spend the rest of the day outside and as far away from any hospital as I can get. Im celebrating being alive, but mostly Im celebrating really living.

Dave has written on his site that he's thankful that the accident happened because he's learned so much about himself and he has realized what a huge support system he has in his friends and family. The site counter on his site shows that people have checked up on his progress 144,195 times in the past year. The last year has been "the best year of [his] life." Wow. Just WOW.

Dave moved to Carlsbad, CA last year to begin rehab at Project Walk, an incredible place that is on the cutting edge of spinal cord injury research and recovery. They believe that NO ONE should ever be told to expect to live the rest of their life in a wheelchair. If you want to be inspired (or just damn glad that you have working limbs), take a few minutes to click thru some of the videos here. You can watch Dave's video by going here and clicking on "Dave D." - the third photo down on the left under "Current Clients."

Oh, by the way, on the anniversary of the accident, Dave went to Project Walk with the goal of walking 100 or more steps. He walked 163.

You can bet Dave is in my thoughts when it's time to toughen up...mentally and physically. I hope he inspires you as much as he has me.

Train hard!!!


Blogger Flatman said...

Dave's site is one that I visit very often. And I have you to thank for that!


10:39 AM GMT-5

Blogger jameson said...

thanks for sharing this. what he has done is amazing. talk about motivation.

11:42 AM GMT-5

Blogger TriSaraTops said...

Awesome, Spence! Thanks! What an amazing guy.

12:05 PM GMT-5

Blogger Wylee said...

Thanks for sharing Dave's story with us, what an inspirational person!

3:52 PM GMT-5

Blogger Cliff said...


Thanks for sharing Dave's and Karen's story....

train HARD...

Yesterday morning, I ran in 0* F weather..i don't htink it was that cold b/c i was stuffing already. I just woke up dress and go. Didn't think about the cold. Didn't think about the time. I just wish I can shut off my brain like that all the time.

3:55 PM GMT-5


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