Traversing Rough Terrain

On April 20, 2006, Danny Stevens made an unorthodox decision. He chose to have his right leg amputated below the knee. Undoubtedly risky, Stevens said he was confident then that he was making the right decision, and is even more adamant about his elective surgery a year later.

“It was about 3 weeks from being told about amputation until I decided to do it. It was too perfect not to. The chance to be able to surf and bike again was worth any risk. They said it could be worse pain-wise, but I could not live with myself if I didn’t try. I had to try something to be able to do what made me, me,� Stevens said.

Born and raised in Portland, Ore. Stevens is now 27 years old and enjoying his newly restored active lifestyle. Four years ago he thought that lifestyle was a thing of the past. In April 2003, Stevens was involved in a motorcycle accident, which resulted in a shattered right leg and more than a month in the hospital. Doctors performed several surgeries in an attempt to salvage Stevens’ lower leg and allow him to regain a normal life. When he was eventually released from the hospital, he was put on a steady diet of inactivity and painkillers.

Taking control

Eric Robinson (left) and Danny Stevens (right)
Eric Robinson (left) and Danny Stevens (right)
Image reprinted with permission of College Park Industries and Danny Stevens

Stevens simply could not handle the effects of the painkillers – the haze-inducing, mind-numbing apathy that enraptured him. He knew something had to change. With the support of his family, and even amidst the shocked reactions of those around him, Stevens went through with the amputation almost exactly 3 years after his accident.

“The surgery was April 20, 2006 and I played my first nine holes of golf the day I got off my crutches, which was June 26.”

The speed with which Stevens recovered is directly correlated to how he lives his life – a high tempo, try-to-catch-your-breath way of living. He is an avid surfer, mountain biker and golfer, and believes that without sports his life is simply not complete. Stevens actually had to wait longer than anticipated to get back to surfing and riding because he pushed himself too hard.

He repeatedly tore his stitches and overworked his residual limb walking the golf course, but for Stevens it was only a matter of time before he once again felt the competitive charge of his favorite sports. His competitive fire has been consistently flamed since his amputation and he plans to put that side of himself on display in Orlando, Fla. at this year’s O&P Extremity Games by College Park. He plans to compete in both advanced mountain biking and surfing.

Another level

The challenge to compete at the same level as able-bodied athletes is what drives Stevens to continue to practice for the Extremity Games, as well as what he sees as the games’ most important effect on its audience.

“Most [able-bodied athletes], nothing against them, but would they still have the same drive and tenacity if they had limb loss? It adds another degree of difficulty and [disabled athletes] are still doing the same tricks, the same stunts with the same danger, but with more hindrance,” he said. “The level of a 360 [spin] on a mountain bike or a wakeboard with one leg or one arm is ramped up at least two or three levels compared to an able-bodied person. The fact that these people are doing these same stunts with limb loss is huge.”

Danny Stevens with bike
Danny Stevens competed in the biking portion of the San Diego Half Ironman.
Image reprinted with permission of College Park Industries and Danny Stevens

Stevens also believes that the Extremity Games is the ultimate showcase for those who might get an opportunity to see amputees and other disabled athletes in an entirely new light. The woe-is-me mentality is essentially out the window for these athletes, which can come as a surprise to some.

“[Some] able-bodied people look at people with amputations in general like, ‘Oh good, he can walk, well good for him,’ or ‘He can put his clothes on with one arm.’ But now they see that these athletes can do anything [they] can do and they can do it better,” Stevens said. “The level of competition is just as high, but the whole competition is actually more difficult and everyone’s still doing the same stunts [as able-bodied athletes], which I think is remarkable.”

Inspiring others

As inspiring as Stevens finds the Extremity Games, he believes its effect on younger amputees is especially significant. It is not enough for disabled athletes to just travel to Orlando to compete, but also for them to prove to young and recent amputees that there is life, and more specifically athletics, still to be explored and embraced.

“I love the fact that the Extremity Games gives kids who have limb loss a platform to showcase their skills. Kids that have limb loss tend to be guided more toward individualistic sports, like mountain biking and wakeboarding and surfing, and [the Extremity Games] is an avenue for them to show their skill sets on a grand stage in front of thousands of people.”

The Extremity Games will also be a way for children to meet dozens more athletes like Danny Stevens, and be shown firsthand that there will always be different paths to choose – they might just have to ignore the various naysayers and make a few unorthodox decisions of their own.

Andrew Kelly is the assistant editor of O&P Business News.

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