After enlisting in the US Marine Corps following his high school graduation, retired Lance Cpl. Daniel Riley served two tours in the Middle East, first in Iraq in 2008 and then in Afghanistan in 2010.
During his second deployment in the Marjah Valley in Afghanistan, Riley and his weapons platoon were on a mission when he stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED).
“I was in Afghanistan on a foot patrol clearing out a compound and stepped on an IED and lost both legs above the knee, as well as three fingers on my left hand,” Riley told O&P Business News.
Riley’s fellow Marines risked their own lives carrying him through an uncleared field to reach the safety of a waiting medevac helicopter. He was taken in critical condition from Afghanistan to a military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany before eventually being transported to Naval Medical Center San Diego for the remainder of his treatment. In all, Riley underwent more than 25 surgeries to repair the damage to his lower extremities, as well as address the extensive internal injuries he had also sustained.
“It was probably about 6 or 8 months before I started using my prostheses and working with the physical therapists and prosthetists at the naval hospital,” Riley said. “I was working first with just short stubbies and worked my way up to knees and then dropped from two canes to one cane and finally I was walking on my own.”
While rehabbing at the Naval Medical Center, Riley was introduced to Operation Rebound, which is a rehabilitative sports program for wounded veterans, military personnel and first responders. Run by the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF), Operation Rebound provides sports equipment, funding, training and other athletic-related needs for service members who have suffered a permanent physical injury. The program also offers instructional clinics, including a surf clinic in San Diego, which Riley attended.
“That was my first introduction to CAF,” Riley said. “I went down there while I was still in a wheelchair barely past my surgeries and got in the water and learned how to surf.”
For the Colorado native, surfing was a brand new activity for him.
“I’ve never really surfed with legs, so it’s normal for me to do it without,” Riley said.
Since that first clinic, Riley remained actively involved with CAF and Operation Rebound.
“I was connected to the community through that, and since then, I’ve gone to one of their triathlon camps and done races and things and been much more involved,” Riley said. “Operation Rebound and CAF have been good about pushing me to do things and keeping me active. They connected me to a great community of other amputees that are active and involved in sports and athletics.”
In addition to surfing, Riley is also an avid skier, biker and runner, and he competes in triathlons across the United States. However, Riley was not always an active athlete.
“I was obviously fit because I was a Marine, but short of running and the physical training that was required for being in the Marine Corps, I was no athlete,” Riley said. “Even growing up, I was never on sports teams or anything like that.”
It wasn’t until after his injury and introduction to CAF that Riley started to focus on his athletic abilities. He completed the New York City Triathlon in July and is currently training for a half Ironman in September. Also known as an Ironman 70.3, the race includes a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run and is considered one of the most challenging triathlons.
“Half Ironman is my biggest goal right now,” Riley said.
After that, Riley plans on competing in the San Diego Triathlon Challenge hosted by CAF on Oct. 20.
“I will be out there, unless I am totally done with triathlons after this next one,” he joked.
Riley credits CAF as one of the biggest influences in his rehabilitation process and is thankful that they encourage him to constantly try new things.
“You just have to jump in with both feet, so to speak,” Riley said. “For me, it’s not about great aspirations of going to the Paralympics or winning world championships or anything like that. Sometimes it’s just as simple as getting out and going on a bike ride with friends or family or going out surfing or skiing with people and having fun. As long as you are staying active and having fun, that’s kind of how I do things, and it’s the best advice that I could give anyone else.” — by Megan Gilbride
Disclosure: Riley has no financial disclosures.